It was only two years, but Doug Flutie calls his time in Toronto the most enjoyable of his illustrious 21-year career.
Flutie, 54, led Toronto to consecutive Grey Cup titles in 1996-97 before joining the NFL’s Buffalo Bill. On Monday, the Argonauts will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of those championship squads and also add Flutie to their all-time team prior to kicking off against the Ottawa Redblacks.
“Those were the closest, most fun teams I’ve ever been around,” Flutie said during a conference call Wednesday. “The camaraderie of that team, I think, stems from two people: Don Matthews as the head coach and Pinball (slotback Mike Clemons) as a player and leader on the team.”
Unfortunately for Flutie, he won’t be able to celebrate Monday with Matthews, who died last month at the age of 77. Flutie credited the Hall of Fame coach with much of his success in Toronto.
“Don was such a big influence on my career,” Flutie said. “One of the major things Don did for me was instill confidence in me to take over the reins and just be free and play.
“He had a knack for deflecting attention off the players and letting them relax and go have fun. He was such a joy to play for. The league will miss him, I miss him.”
Fans attending Monday night’s game will receive a Flutie bobblehead and the Argos are offering two tickets to the contest for $19.97. Flutie will become the 24th player added to the all-time banner.
While in Toronto, Flutie established single-season records for passing yards (5,720 in 1996), completions (434 in ’96) and TD strikes (47 in ’97).
Flutie captured the ’84 Heisman Trophy at Boston College before beginning his pro career the following year with the USFL’s New Jersey Generals (owned by current American president Donald Trump). The five-foot-10, 181-pound Flutie joined the Chicago Bears in 1986 before being dealt to the New England Patriots to start the ’87 campaign.
Flutiie headed north in 1990, signing with the B.C. Lions. He joined the Calgary Stampeders in 1992, winning his first Grey Cup that year.
Flutie spent four years in Calgary before heading to Toronto and guiding the Argos to consecutive 15-3 regular-season records. Over his CFL career, Flutie threw for 41,355 yards and 270 TDs.
He was named the CFL’s outstanding player a record six times and won three Grey Cup titles before returning to the NFL. Flutie played six seasons south of the border with Buffalo (1998-2000), San Diego (2001-04) and New England (2005), being named to the Pro Bowl and the league’s comeback player in 1998.
“I would’ve loved to look at the numbers if I was able to play 21 years in the CFL,” Flutie said. “But I think at that point in my career, though, I needed to answer a couple more questions about going back to the NFL.
“In hindsight I’m very happy I did because it worked out . . . but I do wonder.”
But Flutie said his time in the CFL was significantly different than in the NFL.
“It was night and day,” Flutie said. “I went from calling my own stuff, changing plays whenever I felt like it, taking risks to having a radio in my helmet and being told what to do and trying to execute and please someone.
“Now, the one thing that carried over was because of the success I had doing it the other way, I started voicing my opinion a lot more and trusting my own instincts when I first went back to the NFL. I think my success in the CFL really played into that.”
And Flutie said no coach gave him more freedom to run an offence than Matthews.
“Don always had a running joke,” Flutie said. “He brought the offensive co-ordinator John Jenkins and I into the office and was like, ‘Doug, this is your team. John, stay out of the way and don’t screw it up.’
“The other thing he said was, ‘Doug, you’re my quarterback. If you throw five interceptions, you’re going to get a chance to throw six.’ If I got to the line of scrimmage and decided I didn’t like a play I’d just change it and you didn’t hesitate because it was your play call anyway. I felt like it freed me up to do what I was comfortable with.”