Generals Rally on the Feet of Flutie

March 11, 1985|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Doug Flutie has his comeback routine down so well now that he seems determined to vary his script once in a while just to keep you guessing. That's how they'd do in Hollywood.

Sunday's plan was this: Against the Los Angeles Express, Flutie would come out and play dead for three quarters. He'd tease the crowd by throwing one gutter ball after another. He'd bait his audience to the brink of booing him off the field and then, pow, hit 'em with the good stuff. It would be perfect.

And it was. What isn't these days for Doug Flutie?

Making his home debut as quarterback of the New Jersey Generals, he ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead his team to a 35-24, comeback win over the Express in front of a crowd of 58,741 at Giants Stadium.

Yes, another comeback win. But this time Flutie did it with his feet, not his arm.

"What can you say?" said Flutie of his performance. "I had some trouble throwing the ball today (7 for 19, 100 yards). I didn't have a lot of zip, but I did some other things. I don't care how you do it, sticking it in the end zone is the most important thing."

For the third-consecutive week the Express blew a fourth-quarter lead on its way to a loss. For the third-consecutive week, quarterback Steve Young had a chance to win a game in the final two minutes.

But, as it stands, Young is 0-for-3, the Express is 0-for-3 and any prospective buyer for this ownerless team might now be thinking of investing money in something more lucrative, like eight-track stereos or condominiums at Three Mile Island.

This was also a homecoming for Young, who grew up in nearby Greenwich, Conn. He requested 60 passes for the game for friends and family.

Two of his passes, which were intercepted and led directly to New Jersey touchdowns, he'd like to take back.

"We made it perfect for him (Flutie)," Young said.

The Express set the stage for Flutie by jumping out to a 24-14 lead in the third quarter.

Flutie, meanwhile, was struggling. He completed only 2-of-9 passes for 19 yards in the first half, which isn't much production for a guy who'll make $1.5 million this year.

But fans in the Meadowlands got their money's worth in the fourth quarter.

Taking over at the Generals 42, Flutie ran 12 yards up the middle for a first down. Two plays later, he ran 15 yards up the left sideline to the Express 31. One play later, he passed 11 yards to tight end Sam Bowers to the Los Angeles 15.

After a four-yard run by Herschel Walker, Flutie faked a pitch to his left and cut up the middle for a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-21.

The Express punted on its next possession.

The Generals took over at their own 22 and mounted another drive. Flutie threw 27 yards to Clarence Collins. On second down at the 50, Flutie rolled right to avoid the rush and threw 18 yards to Bowers. On third down at the Express 29, Flutie rolled right and then threw to Clarence Harmon, who went 18 yards to the Express 11. On third down at the Los Angeles 2, Flutie rolled right into end zone to give the Generals a 28-24 lead with 2:57 left.

"I thought I was supposed to be the one who scrambled around," said Young, the quarterback who entered the game leading his team and conference in rushing.

Flutie finished with 97 yards rushing on nine carries.

"He was everything he was advertised as," Express Coach John Hadl said. "He's a quick guy who's hard to get a hold of."

Hadl didn't have much to smile about, except that he might have found a running back. Kirby Warren, who had barely touched the ball in two years with the Express, gained 83 yards on 11 carries. Warren was activated only because Kevin Nelson is out with an ankle injury. He was in the game only because the Express' other back, Mel Gray, can't seem to hold onto the football.

Before Flutie's comeback was complete, though, he had to watch from the sideline as Young and the Express took over at its 20 with 2:43 left.

Young threw 12 yards to Jojo Townsell on first down. But his pass intended for LeRoy Campbell on the next play was intercepted by Generals cornerback Kerry Justin near the left sideline. Justin returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.

"He threw it right where it belonged," Justin said. "I just got a good jump on the ball. They had thrown it to the sideline the play before so I was trying to play tight coverage."

In the second quarter, Justin intercepted a Young pass and returned it nine yards to the Express 17. It led to an eight-yard touchdown run by Flutie, which gave New Jersey a 14-9 lead heading into the half.

Last year, even with 31 rookies, the Express won the close games. Los Angeles won all three overtime games it played. And that's why Young can't believe what's happened in recent weeks. After blowing a 33-13 lead against Houston in the opener, Young had a chance to drive his team to a winning score in the final two minutes. But an intercepted pass ended that rally.

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