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Doug Flutie's Dropkick

Doug Flutie's dropkick did not win a game.

The stunt occurred during a contest that Flutie's team, the New England Patriots, appeared to have no interest in winning. In fact, the team's performance, which culminated in a badly or brilliantly overthrown pass, depending on your point of view, by a second or third string quarterback, depending on how you're counting, led some observers to conclude that the Pats intentionally pulled up short of beating the Dolphins. By losing, the Pats plunked themselves into a first round playoff game against the Jaguars, rather than the Steelers. Conspiracy theorists speculate that New England figured Jacksonville, a warm weather team, would be an easier opponent than Pittsburgh would have been.

In any case, although healthy, first string quarterback Tom Brady, the fellow who has led the Patriots to three championships over the past four years, watched most of the game from the bench, as did several of his fellow starters. The most remarkable thing they saw was Doug Flutie's dropkick...a tactic nobody had successfully employed in a National Football League game for sixty four years.

The N.F.L. of those days was characterized not only by the occasional dropkick, but also by leather helmets and the expectation that almost everybody would play both offense and defense. The biggest players weighed a little over two hundred pounds, and nearly all of even the wealthiest of them worked day jobs in the off-season. Fans didn't take them as seriously as they did their counterparts playing the game in college, which suggests that, unlike the men who play and coach in the N.F.L. today, the pros sixty four years ago did not take themselves too seriously.

Which brings us back to the real point of Doug Flutie's dropkick. It was mathematically inconsequential, but it was fun. It caused Flutie's teammates, who were losing, to laugh. It provoked in his coach, the notoriously unamused Bill Belichick, a smile. In the contemporary world of the National Football League, a landscape characterized by grotesque physical damage, a spectacularly lunatic degree of specialization, and approximately the same tolerance for spontaneity that characterizes a NASA launch, Flutie's one point and otherwise pointless dropkick reminded us that even football is something people play.

This program aired on January 6, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield has been the host of Only A Game since the program began in 1993.

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