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Ageless Provocateur

At 41, Flutie is an NFL starting quarterback again and doing what he does best -- giving defenses a rough time.

November 16, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Doug Flutie stood near his locker at the San Diego Charger facility this week and pulled on his authentic Boston Red Sox jersey with Nomar Garciaparra's name and number on the back.

"I've ordered some more and they're supposed to be here by now," Flutie said, making his way toward the door. "I've got a Johnny Unitas one coming, a Terry Bradshaw and a Sammy Baugh."

As for his own legend, the 41-year-old Flutie is building on that by the day.

He will be San Diego's starting quarterback today at Denver, one week after turning his first start in 22 months into a tour de force. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 42-28 victory over the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, leading the Chargers to their highest point total in a decade.

It was the first time in his NFL career that Flutie had scored two touchdowns rushing in a game, and he became the oldest player -- not just quarterback -- in league history to do so.

Flutie has replaced a struggling Drew Brees, who was benched after having five passes intercepted and throwing no touchdown passes in his last three games. It's a delicate situation -- Flutie and Brees are friends and have lockers right next to each other -- but it is nothing like the venomous and divisive situation Flutie had in Buffalo, when he and Rob Johnson battled for the starting job with the Bills.

"I always feel like I complicate a situation wherever I've been," Flutie said. "It's like, if I go out and play well, it does nothing but cause problems. I don't know how to look at it. When they ask me to play, I'll play. Otherwise, I'll sit down and watch Drew."

As it stands, Brees is still the Chargers' quarterback of the future, but Flutie is the man of the moment.

"I believe in Breesy," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "There's not a guy here who works harder to get better than Drew Brees. But, hey, let's ride this thing out."

That's the widespread sentiment of the Chargers, who slogged through a 1-6 start without ever hitting their offensive stride. Then, against the backdrop of a "Flu-tie! Flu-tie!" chant from the home crowd, they turned things around in stunning fashion behind the fifth-oldest quarterback to start an NFL game in the Super Bowl era.

Just don't mention age to Flutie.

"What drives me nuts is everyone talking about my age," he said. "I think you only talk age if it's a factor. I don't think it's a factor in this situation, because I feel like my skills haven't diminished.

"Ever since I was 32, 33, people have been asking me when I was going to retire, and I said, 'When I can't play the game the way I want to play it,' and that's being able to move around and make plays with my legs as well as my arm."

That double threat has to be a concern to the Broncos, who are missing their two best linebackers, John Mobley and Ian Gold, because of injuries. Denver, which had last week off, should get a boost from the return of quarterback Jake Plummer, who sat out the previous month because of a broken foot.

The Chargers simply want to maintain the momentum they established last week when Flutie took over. This time, they will have to do it without the help of a San Diego crowd, which gave the Chargers an undeniable burst of adrenaline against the Vikings.

"When your crowd is so adamant about Flutie, it's like George Foreman," Neal said. "Why do you think so many people were behind him? It wasn't that he was the best fighter. It's because everyone's like, when you're over 35 you're on the decline. People don't think you can win. So that's why you see the crowd just gravitate to the older guys, the Fluties, the Foremans. Because he's defying age.

"Guys at 41 are usually sitting back in a chair or on the couch, drinking a beer, watching the game. This guy's out there and making guys 20 years younger look bad."

Other than a few gray specks in his dark hair, very little about Flutie betrays his age. Some of his teammates are almost young enough to be his kids, yet he has a disarming youthfulness about him that has been around since his days at Boston College, when his "Flutie Magic" legend was born. He cracks jokes in the locker room and, if the mood strikes him, plays air guitar during TV timeouts.

The day after the Chargers played Miami on a Monday night three weeks ago -- the game was moved to Tempe, Ariz., because of wildfires in San Diego -- Flutie flew to Minneapolis, where he sat in as the drummer for a three-song session with the band Barenaked Ladies. One of those three songs will be played at halftime of Monday's game between San Francisco and Pittsburgh as part of a music contest ABC is conducting with football players each week. If Flutie advances in the competition, another of his songs will air the following week, and so on.

"I've been playing for a long time so I got very comfortable," Flutie said of the jam session. "At first I was a little nervous because you're out of your element and you're with professional musicians. And there's a difference. I just don't want to embarrass myself. That's like my worst nightmare is embarrassing myself."

So it took a rock band to make Flutie feel a way he hasn't in two decades.

Like a rookie.

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