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Littlefield: Celebrating Flutie's Hail Mary03:21
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On Nov. 23, 1984, Doug Flutie completed one of the most famous passes of all time to lead Boston College past Miami. (Joe Skipper/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
On Nov. 23, 1984, Doug Flutie completed one of the most famous passes of all time to lead Boston College past Miami. (Joe Skipper/AP)

This is Part 1 in our episode on the origin of the forward pass.

For more, see: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


For almost 25 years, we’ve called the show Only A Game. But sometimes it’s not.

Sometimes a game can transcend not only itself but the context of the sport. It doesn’t happen as often as the sponsors, the advertisers, the television flacks and the agents say that it does, but it happens.

And when it does, attention should be paid, and the moment should be remembered.

On Nov. 23, 1984, the University of Miami and Boston College staged a football game that probably still inspires in defensive coaches screaming nightmares.

The two quarterbacks in that game, Doug Flutie of Boston College and Bernie Kosar of Miami, combined to throw for 919 yards, more than half a mile. They also combined for a total of 12 feet, 3 inches in height. Kosar accounted for most of it. Flutie stood 5-foot-10 when he was on his toes.

Together they established early what would turn out to be the game’s plot line: The quarterback who got his hands on the ball last would probably win it.

Flutie got it last. But with six seconds left on the clock, time for one more play, B.C., down 4, was barely past the middle of the field. And Flutie used the first few of those six seconds to scramble back to the B.C. 36.

The final play was called "55 Flood Tip" in the B.C. playbook. Wide receiver Gerard Phelan’s job was to tip the ball to one of the other receivers in the end zone.

Instead, he caught it. The final score was 47-45. And the winning number wasn’t established until a click before the clock ran out.

Of Flutie, Phelan said, "I didn’t think he could throw the ball that far."

Flutie might not have thought so, either. The pass traveled 64 yards, which was only one of many reasons that it provoked rime, in a much younger me.

It wasn’t God; He can’t take sides
When two teams come to play.
But who’s to say the gods weren’t present
On the fateful day
When Flutie spotted Phelan through
The wet Miami air,
And, as the clocked ticked down to nothing,
Launched that final prayer?

Who’s to say, indeed? Not me, and I don’t even like football. But, hey, I’ll acknowledge that I like the ballet of the long forward pass, the receiver racing to get under it — or as close to "under it" as he can — but maybe not quite, because he has to stretch and take it on his fingertips. Or, as was the case with Gerard Phelan, in the gut as he fell into the end zone, so that the catch looked less like ballet than like two magnets — one big, one very small and falling from the sky — snapping together behind an astonished and dismayed clump of defenders.

This segment aired on December 16, 2017.

Related:

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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