City Journal: Lined Up to Punt

One year into his retirement, Doug Flutie wonders if being a TV analyst is worth all the hassle.

During his quarter century in football, Doug Flutie was a scampering bundle of positivity who repeatedly lifted our dreary Bostonian spirits, from that famous Hail Mary to his encore drop-kick field goal. But since calling it quits last spring, he’s had a sometimes rocky adjustment to retirement. For one thing, the usual sports-icon second act—breaking down games as a TV analyst—has proven to be a lot more than he bargained for.

“I’ve traveled way too much for what I wanted to get out of this job,” he groans about his new gig covering college football for ABC-ESPN. “That’s gotta change next year or I won’t be doing it.”

Standing in the kitchen of his Natick manse during one of the rare times he’s been home in months, Flutie shows the signs of a road dog’s life. The crow’s feet and the sporadic gray hairs hint at his 44 years. During the regular season, he was on the road six days a week, spending Fridays and Saturdays in New York for production meetings and in-studio broadcasts. He’d drive home early Sunday morning, then fly out that night to prepare for the midweek games. Now, with college football’s bowl season upon us, Flutie needs only survive another week or so of an experience he really didn’t enjoy from Day 1.

“It was new to me,” he explains. “It was work. I didn’t feel like doing it. When I’m getting ready for a football season, I go for a run. I’m motivated to do that. This? The mental preparation feels like a classroom to me.”

The former Heisman Trophy winner is fixed in our minds as an overjoyed kid leaping on a field in Miami in 1984. He does not naturally fit the role of the terse, opinionated pundit that TV execs like. On-air, he often seems uneasy and tentative, and he finds himself leery of lobbing armchair criticism at players and coaches. “Craig James, he has no problem saying a coach should be fired,” Flutie says, referring to one of his on-air colleagues. “I’ll buffer it. I’ll say, ‘They’re struggling right now.’ Because I know how hard the guys are working.”

But as the season wore on, Flutie did get more pointed in his comments. In November he dismissed the notion that the Texas Longhorns would lose to Kansas State. After KSU pulled off a major upset, an irate Longhorns fan sent two hate-filled e-mails to Flutie’s autism foundation, calling him a “jinx.” The threatening e-mails were traced to a man in California, who later sent an apologetic letter to Flutie; no charges were filed.

After two decades slogging around the pro football circuit and being chased by jacked-up linebackers, Flutie doesn’t need strife like that anymore. He had hoped retirement would allow him to spend more time with his wife, Laurie; his 18-year-old daughter, Alexa; and his autistic son, Dougie. “I miss him and I miss Lex,” he admits. “Today I came home and walked into Dougie’s room, and his face lit up.” The Fluties have raised more than $8 million for autism research through the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation. Still, caring for Dougie, now 14, is a full-time challenge. “He’s got athleticism,” Flutie says. “He’s got the ability to take off and run. But he’s a hundred times better than he was three years ago.”

Whether Flutie continues as a TV analyst or not, he plans to stay involved with football. He keeps in touch with old teammates, and exchanges text messages with Tom Brady almost daily. He sees himself back on the field someday, coaching a high school team—which is probably how most of us picture him anyway. Until then, he makes do with rec league basketball games and playing on a flag football team with his nephew Billy, a freshman at Boston College. “I’m just playing defense,” Flutie says, chuckling. “But I’m terrible at grabbing the flag. I miss more tackles than anyone else on the field.”