Dave Buston/Reuters
Dave Buston/Reuters

‘You couldn’t tell me winning a Super Bowl would feel any nicer’

In eight CFL seasons, Doug Flutie was named Most Outstanding Player six times. He played in four Grey Cups, winning three. TSN voted him the greatest player of all time. Here’s why Canada’s brand of football is No. 1 in his heart

By
Doug Flutie
· More from Doug·

I miss playing in the CFL, no doubt about it. Boy, it was a lot of fun. People in America have no clue what goes on up there, or about the quality of football we had. That’s what made the experience for me. Most of the guys were NFL-caliber talent, but were undersized or just didn’t fit the mold in one way or another.

My CFL career started in 1990, with the BC Lions, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I could tell I was going to be viewed as a backup in the NFL, and you only have so many years to play this game, and I wanted to play. So I figured I’d give the CFL a whirl. When I first went up to Canada, I thought I’d put in two years up there and then try to get back to the NFL. But I enjoyed it so much, I wound up making a career out of it.

The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open. It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets, six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting—and actually more effective. The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the-football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the past 30 years.

By the time I finished up in the CFL, I was basically my own offensive coordinator, calling all the plays on the field. We had our playbook, but I had my ideas from watching film during the week of game-planning and seeing things on the field. My whole theory at quarterback was to keep my receivers from having to think too much. Let them just be full speed and go. Rather than making them read everything on the fly and then adjusting, I would give them a route and they would just run it. I told them, “I’ll deal with the pressure, I’ll deal with the hot reads, I’ll build something in where I’ll get rid of the ball quickly.”

The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the-football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the past 30 years.

When I played in Toronto, we were playing a regular-season game against Edmonton, and I called a quarterback draw. The running back, Robert Drummond, was going to run a swing route to try to pull a linebacker with him. But the linebacker lined up on the edge, and it was an all-out blitz, so there was nothing in the middle of the field. It was either going to be a touchdown or we were going to be stopped at the line of scrimmage. Drummond was faster than I was, so just before the ball was snapped, in the middle of my cadence, I said, “Hey, just jump in and take the snap direct and run the draw.” He busted it for like a 70-yard touchdown.

Another time, we were going into the Grey Cup against Saskatchewan in 1997, and they had been giving us headaches with their zone blitzes. Instead of changing all of our pass protections and really worrying about it, I built in a hitch screen. Every time they came with a blitz from one side of the field, I would just turn and throw the hitch screen. They tried to zone blitz three or four times in the first quarter, and we averaged like 18 yards a catch off this silly little hitch screen to a back or wide receiver. And they quit doing it. We just lit them up. We scored a mess of points and had a really efficient day.

To do that in the NFL, though, it would probably have to be a coordinator’s idea. And then you would have to clear it with the offensive line coach, to make sure you can block all this stuff. Then you would have to execute it a couple of days in practice, and if it looked OK, it would make its way into the game plan. In the CFL, I was in a position where if I saw something in the middle of the game, I could just put it in without having to ask anybody. As long as you keep it simple enough, guys can just react and go. The NFL, for years, has been a copycat league. A coach would have to see something be successful elsewhere before he was willing to try it—and the league has been very slow to change because of that.

I’ll tell you what drove me nuts more than anything: I went from calling my own plays in the CFL, then back to the NFL for eight seasons, where I had a radio in my helmet and as soon as one play ended, the coaches were talking to you in the helmet for 20 seconds. It took so long to get a play call in, and your first thought was, What is the coach looking for? rather than, What do I want to do here?

During my days with the Buffalo Bills, we were a running, play-action team that played really good defense in low-scoring games. You adapt, and you do it that way. But boy, the mindset was different. When I was in the CFL, I was very aggressive. Aggressive in my play-calling; aggressive in my decision-making. In the NFL, I became much more passive, trying to do what I thought the coaches wanted me to do all the time.

Of course, when you’ve got a Peyton Manning, a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees—a guy who has been in an offense for a number of years—the trust factor goes up. The coaches start letting go of the reins and let quarterbacks have much more of a say. But I never got to that point with an NFL team, where I was there long enough (or starting long enough) to gain that trust. In the NFL, with what’s at stake money-wise and the pressure on coaches, they want total control because their necks are on the line.

In the CFL, it was more of a game. And it was a lot more fun. The length of the workday really helped with that, too. By CBA rule, they could only keep us there 4½ hours. In the NFL, it’s 10- to 12-hour days, every day, and it becomes a grind. I know the NFL is a big business, and it’s getting more complicated and tougher, but the burnout level, especially for quarterbacks, is crazy. I just wish there were some way around that, to somehow keep the fun in the game.

canada-week-250-width


The MMQB is invading Canada. On Monday, Bears coach Marc Trestman wrote about his time north of the border and everything you need to know about the CFL’s rules and quirks.

I was actually, for a while, making more money in the CFL working a 4½ hour workday than I would have in the NFL with a 12-hour workday. And I was in total control of the offense. You can see why I enjoyed it so much. I’d go in around 10 a.m., watch some film on my own and do some game-planning, grab lunch, and then start the day with the team at 1 p.m. We’d end by 5:30.

I’m pretty sure the trajectory of my career would have been different today. I would have been in a position to be more successful in the NFL running some of these current styles of offenses, and I think an NFL team would have been more open to turning me into a franchise guy if things went well. I was always viewed by NFL teams as a band-aid: A guy who could help us win, keep us competitive, and while he’s doing that, we’re going to go find our franchise quarterback. It has turned into a little bit different mentality now with the success of guys like Brees and Russell Wilson, and the success of the spread offenses in the NFL.

But the CFL gave me so much. When I left Toronto for Buffalo, I was 35 and I was ready to retire. I figured I’d come back to the NFL for maybe a year or two, just to prove I could do it. I ended up playing another eight years. That was just crazy. The CFL gave me the opportunity to be a starter, regain my confidence, and then come back and be a starter in the NFL. And, I got to play eight games with my younger brother, Darren. We were both with the BC Lions in 1991.

Another thing I’ll always remember is how fanatical the fans are up in Canada. Especially in some of the smaller markets, this is their football and they love their teams. You can draw a parallel with just about every city to a team in America. Saskatchewan reminds me a lot of Green Bay. They live for their team. Hamilton, with its blue-collar fans, is Pittsburgh. Calgary would be Denver—you’re at an altitude, and everybody who goes into Calgary to play is out of breath.

Calgary is where I won my first CFL championship, in 1992. We played against Edmonton in the Western final to go to the Grey Cup, and we had to drive the length of the field, into the wind, in the last seconds to win that game. I ended up running the ball in from a few yards out for the winning score. That was my shining moment that season.

Then we played the Grey Cup in Toronto, and I just remember dominating the game against Winnipeg. The last minute or two, I was standing on the sideline with Dave Sapunjis, my receiver and best friend on the team, putting on our Grey Cup champions hats, and playing to our crowd behind our bench. It was just a moment in time for me. You couldn’t tell me winning a Super Bowl would feel any nicer.

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84 comments
drjjjj
drjjjj

I've been watching the Canadian game more this season on ESPN. I'm starting to enjoy it more than NFL. It seems more open and free, like the early AFL. I like the small college type atmosphere. What also annoys me about NFL broadcasts are that the announcers never just shut up. They have to try to over analyze everything. I appreciate Flutie's comments. He ought to know. He was a very cerebral, athletic player and very exciting to watch. Besides, I'd rather watch a dull half of Canadian football than 10 seconds of another ridiculous Super Bowl halftime show.

captmurphysealab
captmurphysealab

I love Flutie, but come on. Comparing the Superbowl to winning the CFL championship is like comparing the World Series to winning some local city softball league.

favelle75
favelle75

The craziest thing is, if Flutie started that playoff game against the Titans...they would have won, easily. Robot Johnson got sacked a bazillion times because he moved like a slug. Flutie would have worked his magic and easily would have got the Bills to the Conference Final.

Gridiron
Gridiron

There was a great group of quarterbacks in Canada while Flutie was here. Matt Dunnigan, Kent Austin, Damon Allen (Marcus Allen's brother), Danny McManus, Tracy Ham, Jeff Garcia. Everyone of them were good enough to play in the NFL but back then the NFL was a run-run-call a timeout(because the 40 second clock was about to run out)-run-punt (chase the ball down field while the receiving team is walking to the sideline) league. Loved watching Flutie play his (Canadian) style of football when he got back to the NFL.

TedMaria
TedMaria

Great article. What Doug Flutie says about the Canadian game is oh so true. Im not worried so much about more Americans loving our game as I am about our own Canadian youth...our future fans. Maybe its just me but I notice a lot of them talking about NFL more than CFL. This I believe is largely due to all the media hype the NFL gets. Its time to get our young people excited about the CFL again...like I was as a kid and still am. The one city they need to do this in more than any other is Toronto. Our young fans need to be reminded of how guys like Doug Flutie was a superstar in a super exciting league....and it still is.

MichaelUzenko
MichaelUzenko

Glad that Doug did a shot in the NFL. He was a winner in both  CFL & NFL


BillRobinson
BillRobinson

Great article and great comments from the readers. It's nice to see the enthusiasm and love of the game without all the cynicism and negativity.

LeonHodgkinson
LeonHodgkinson

How cool. Thanks for reminding me of the Sponge.

localidiot
localidiot

Great insight into the game and what goes through the head of a QB. Also tells us a lot about the difference between the leagues. NFL coaches play not to lose; CFL coaches play to win.

pjh14
pjh14

NFL - you listening? Canadian game has some great rules.  Biggest pet peeve - NFL MUST change the way the game ends with people walking all over the field with 30 seconds left in the first half or, more importantly, at the end of the game.  In the CFL you can get 3 or 4 plays in AND potentially have the last play of game or perhaps a game winning field goal attempt happen with 0 seconds on the clock. THAT is exciting!  Seriously analyze this NFL.

Also, the size of the NFL field is a huge issue. The field is so narrow the sideline becomes an extra defender.  A puny 10 yard end zone also ends too many long drives with field goals.

RJC
RJC

I can remember watching many a game with my Grandfather and hearing him laugh aloud as you magically emerged from a mess of defensive players to pull off a big play time after time. He loved watching you play (as did I) and that made those couple hours together even more special & memorable. Thank you Doug for that great gift. It was a joy to watch you play.

Sling
Sling

Thanks for the memories Doug.  We could see you loved to play, it showed in the way you played.

sdrfeww
sdrfeww

My best memory of Flutie was a game that he lost, against the BC Lion, Flutie had his team in the lead and a Field Goal would had sealed the victory with 1 min left in the game.  The BC Lions blocked that FG attempted and with less then 1 min to go in a Snow Storm they march right back 70 yards and won on a touch down throw with seconds left.  I believe his brother Darren caught the ball.  That was for the Western Conference.  Classic football

DonTheGreen
DonTheGreen

Way to go Doug Flutie.  Watching you play was great.  You made things happened, improvised when you saw better options, and made it truly entertaining to see you play the game.  You will be remembered well in both countries and leagues.

Bulbaczar
Bulbaczar

Great article. I really appreciate the love for the Canadian game.

GordMcCallum
GordMcCallum

I'll never forget how annoyed I was watching Flutie play in Buffalo, play well, and still back up Rob Johnson I believe who really never accomplished much. 

Bauer53
Bauer53

Great Article.  Flutie was great in the CFL.  

DavidKaneva
DavidKaneva

I got a personal Flutie story for everyone. I live in Hamilton, home of the Tiger Cats of the CFL. The summer Flutie left the CFL and signed with Buffalo (1998) the Ti Cats played a home game, and Doug's brother Darren, was playing for the Ti Cats. I was 22 at the time and had my 10 year old brother with me sitting in the end zone in the real cheap seats (like 10 bucks). We sit down at our seats and there's a short guy sitting alone beside us wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. There is another couple a few seats down from him on the other side. The short guy was Doug Flutie (short to me anyways, I am 6'7). I tell everyone this because it was so incredible. We recognized Doug and he didn't care. Doug went out of his way and started talking to my little brother and I about football for almost the entire first half. We called plays together, he taught us about formations, he talked about playing college and pro football. It was the coolest thing ever and my brother was so excited. Just before halftime he had to leave and go to the press box for an interview, he signed some autographs, shook my hand and left. A few months later he was leading the Bills to the playoffs. The man had an incredible career in the CFL and if it were not for such a boneheaded move by the coaches, he would have likely stayed in Buffalo. Doug Flutie had magic, and I can say honestly, is a very decent, kind person.

ZombiePatriot
ZombiePatriot

What is great about the CFL is the accessibility to the Grey Cup.  Last year on Grey Cup Sunday I went down to the Fan March to make my way to the stadium for the game.  During the walk I was tapped on the shoulder and handed a wrist band which allowed me to carry the cup (one of hundreds of people).  So, I now have a lasting memory of getting to march down the street, to the stadium carrying the Grey Cup the day the team I cheer for won (there was also a professional photographer so I was able to download a free photo of the moment).


As to the game it was one I doubt will ever be repeated as the crowd for the championship seemed to be 95% Roughrider supporters and when the Riders had won nobody except the odd random Tiger Cat fan moved.  It was also eerily silent as those in attendance stood and absorbed the moment.


I feel lucky to have access to both the NFL and the CFL.  And to those who may poo-poo the CFL as an inferior league I encourage you to take some time to understand the differences and the beauty of both games.  If you are such a big football fan that you are thirsting for more maybe it is time to sit and enjoy some CFL.


Go Riders!

George Reed
George Reed

Flutie played for 2 of the all-time great CFL coaches, Wally Buono and Don Matthews.  I would love to hear him compare and contrast them and speculate as to how both would have done as NFL head coaches.

Kevin1
Kevin1

I loved reading this article. Great job by Doug Flutie. But please, PLEASE don't let that racist wife-beater warren moon be a guest writer. It would ruin Canada week on MMQB.

OttawaRuffRyder
OttawaRuffRyder

Flutie was great in Canada. If you compare kicking game excitement: the CFL really excells. I worry about US interest in the CFL since American fans won't get it and will want to change it. The NFL can keep its fair catches, touchbacks, downing the ball etc. Long live the rouge.

Painstorm77
Painstorm77

I hope that when the Argos can get into a different stadium that it will help to re-create the passion Toronto once had for their football team. There are a LOT of great Argos fans, I just wish more Torontonians would take as much pride in the CFL as Doug Flutie does and support this Canadian institution. Perhaps improving the atmosphere when they have to move will help with this.

This is coming from a die-hard, season ticket holding Riders fan...it's good for the league and the country if the Argos are successful. Just not against the Riders ;-)  Great article Mr. Flutie!

Rick in Huahin!
Rick in Huahin!

A man before his time! A great player and teammate! And, like Gwynn, a truly good guy! A shame he was really never in the right position to showcase his talent in the NFL.

LeeHarding
LeeHarding

Flutie was amazing and dominant. It warmed my heart to read this article. I am really delighted that SI is doing Canada week! To potential American fans I say, please don't judge the league by the CFL opening week. There's only two pre-season games and the rust isn't off yet.

daviddevion
daviddevion

Flutie was probably the best QB in either league in his later years with calgary and toronto with a style of play simply perfect for the CFL and it showed. 


Had he been shown the same freedom in the NFL, he would be much more well known in the usual suspects of great modern QB's.


 But is was a treat to watch him play, even if his stature with the more bigger NFL boys would and should has said no way jose !!!. 


 Also he joins the list of some great CFL names who never really got a fair shot in the NFL, but up north in a slightly different kind of game, he certainly showed no shame and much game, coming up more then a few times on top.


Again, another American who proudly got a chance to play and excel in the so called bush league Canadian style game.


TimAButtle1
TimAButtle1

Awesome article. I appreciate how Doug Flutie mentioned the fans in Canada. The fans truly love their teams. A good friend of mine had his ashes sprinkled on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. I agree with having Warren Moon talk about his experience. I read once where his happiest days playing pro football were in Edmonton. Saw him play a couple of times. Tore the league up.

IanBlack
IanBlack

If you are interested in little history lesson --- I highly recommend a documentary series called "Engraved on a Nation". It was produced by TSN (Canada's ESPN) -- 2 episodes were particularly excellent -- " The Stone Thrower" and "The Kid from La Puente". They both feature QBs (Chuck Ealey & Anthony Calvillo) who would never get a shot in the NFL but came to Canada and made a name for themselves. Excellent viewing.

blee
blee

Ok, I'll bite. 


Doug Flutie was at his best during the 1991 regular season with the B.C. Lions. 6,619 passing yards.  His brother, Darren, joined the team as a receiver halfway through the season and went on to his own CFL Hall of Fame career!  I have never seen more exciting offensive football. Too bad that team had no Defence.  To get a true flavour of the CFL back then and Doug's dominance, check out the second most exciting game of that season, an overtime thriller against Toronto, which I found at the following YouTube link:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRrevNptOdc


I say second most exciting game, because the most exciting game that season was when Doug led the B.C. Lions to score THREE touchdowns in the final minute for a come for behind victory in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Unfortunately, that game was only on radio.


If you watch the video of the 1991 B.C. Lions / Toronto Argonaut thriller linked above, you will see multiple shots of a flamboyant stock promoter team owner, Murray Pezim, cheering with his orange gloves on besides a bevy of women half his age hanging out with him in the owner's box.  Meanwhile, Toronto Argonauts co-Owner, John Candy (who owned the team along with Wayne Gretzky and the infamous Bruce McNall) patrols the sidelines.  Great Sports Illustrated article on the larger than life then B.C. Lions owner here.


http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:3TqF5RfZaekJ:sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1140498/2/+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca


Murray was just one of a cast of characters and swindlers when it came to CFL owners.  That should be your CFL topic for next year - the crazy owners this league endured, particularly from the early '90's to mid '00's, and how they almost bankrupted this league, including the crazed U.S. expansion attempt with inflated franchise fees.  As much as that era provided some great humour upon reflection, the CFL over the last 10 years had enjoyed the benefit of quiet, thoughtful, well heeled stable ownership and the league is so much better for it!  The CFL's future prospects as a league have never been brighter.


KeithHansen
KeithHansen

Has anyone thought of getting Warren Moon for CFL coverage? He was five Grey Cups at Edmonton.

theboneman21
theboneman21

Amen Doug, amen.


He was AWESOME. 


I truly hope the NFL adopts more CFL type policies like the bigger field. The rouge would be awesome but that won't happen.


The NFL is far too rigid.

ballhawk
ballhawk

Greatest CFL Player - Jackie Parker, University of Mississippi, Edmonton Eskimos, ole spaghetti legs,  1954 - 1971 or likely, Doug Flutie  

ScottSlonim
ScottSlonim

Reading this article makes me want to watch the CFL!  I remember watching Flutie play in San Diego. He was incredible!

JohnSmith12
JohnSmith12

@Gridiron - Don't forget other great QBs like Roy Dewalt (league MVP, Grey Cup) and Condredge Holloway (MVP, 2 Grey Cups), who both had incredible CFL careers.

Cleveland drafted Dewalt and told him "You're a running back."  Like Warren Moon, he said "Screw you, I'm a quarterback" and went north.  He was my favourite QB when I was growing up, in an era of Moon, Holloway, Tom Clements, Dieter Brock, John Hufnagel and many other CFL greats.

JohnSmith12
JohnSmith12

@pjh14 - Even just a 15 yard end zone would change things, creating more passing room near the goal line.  A wider field could also force players to lose weight and help reduce the concussion problem.  A defensive end in the CFL weighs the same as an NFL linebacker, and not just because of the talent that's available.  They need to be lighter and more mobile.

plplpokok
plplpokok

@pjh14 Agreed. You guys seriously need a shorter clock. We often say, and it's TRUE, whichever team has the ball at the end of the game, wins. Our endzones were also 25 yards until the 1980s. Now they're 20, but from the 30 you can literally throw a bomb. Adds so much more to the game. 

Stephen Blakely
Stephen Blakely

@Kevin1 Not excusing what he did, but what does his domestic disputes have to do with his CFL career? Wasn't he a star in Canada?

Markwwnb
Markwwnb

@IanBlack Thanks Ian, I was going to make the same recommendation. Those "Engraved on a Nation" shows were awesome and the Chuck Ealey one was particularly good.

LeeHarding
LeeHarding

I must have blocked that Rider loss out of my memory. Thanks for the link!

JohnSmith12
JohnSmith12

@theboneman21 - One thing the NFL should adopt from the CFL is the 15 minute straight overtime.  Two 7:30 minute halves, no halftime except to switch ends.

Sudden death is okay in games where goals are scored (e.g. hockey, soccer, lacrosse) but not football.

LeeHarding
LeeHarding

The NFL needs to have the five yard safe bubble for kick returns that is in CFL. To save concussions the NFL just moved the kickoff lines forward to make actual returns more rare. Way to kill the game!

athleticpursuit
athleticpursuit

I had season tickets in BC during Flutie's first year. The games were awesome but the wins were few. He knew how to create exciting offense and a real team "never say die" atmosphere. Loved every game. I wish he would come back as a coach or analyst.

LeeHarding
LeeHarding

Jackie Parker QB'd, played DB, kicked and returned kicks. Incredible!

Route9
Route9

@ballhawk Not Mississippi. Parker was: "The Fast Freight from Mississippi State"

LeeHarding
LeeHarding

Try to reserve judgment this opening week. The CFL has a short preseason and the opening week is sometimes a bit sloppy. That said, in 2012 Saskatchewan avenged a Grey Cup loss with a 54-51 OT season opener that was an amazing game!

theboneman21
theboneman21

@LeeHarding that wasnt player safety; that was more clock stoppages to generate tv $.


their effort to mask it as a safety thing was appreciated tho


:(

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