Doug Flutie talks College Football Playoff, head injuries in football and the NFL's future in Canada
By JOHN DORN
Doug Flutie is a Heisman trophy winner and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. And ahead of Thursday's College Football Playoff games, the former quarterback took the time to chat with AOL Sports about this year's playoff, head injuries in football and the possibility of the NFL in Canada.
Doug's touring on behalf of Capital One and the Capital One Cup, the prestigious award which recognizes the best men's and women's Division I athletic program in the country, giving a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships. The winner of the Clemson/Oklahoma matchup in Miami will be one step closer to winning the national championship and earning 60 points toward the Capital One Cup. For more information on the Cup, or to see where your school stands, fans can go to capitalonecup.com.
You can find our conversation with Flutie below.
Along with spending a lot of the year in the state of Florida, I know you'll also be connecting with the fans down there as well, signing autographs at the Capital One Orange Bowl Fan Fest at Sun Life Stadium on Thursday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Knowing them as you do, what does this game mean to college football fans in that state?
The Orange Bowl in general, to the South Florida community means a sense of pride. It's a game that has always had National Championship significance, and they take a lot of pride in that down there -- that this is the bowl game, especially in the state of Florida. It's always been the high-profile game. For me, I'm excited -- it's the second year of Capital One being involved, and Capital One being the title sponsor. I've been with Capital One for five years now, That's a big deal to me, to be involved in it, and the fact that it's a playoff game this year -- even more so.
Forever and ever, there was clamoring for NCAA to implement a football playoff. It finally came last year, but almost instantly, there were those who said it needs to be expanded to more than just four teams.Where do you stand on that?
Well, No. 1, I was excited that when they went to a playoff format, they kept the integrity of the bowl system. I thought so much of college football is tradition, and tradition is maintained by keeping the bowls. In order to expand even further, I'm sure would hurt the bowl system and it would make it difficult for teams to travel -- as far as alumni and everything else. To do it two weeks in a row is tough, let alone three or four. You'd have to start playing home games for teams that are higher seeds, and, again, probably hurt the tradition of the bowls.
I think four teams works right now. I know that, with the success of this, there's gonna be clamoring -- people are already doing it ... someday it might happen -- to go to eight or 16. But right now, four works. Because if you have an undefeated season, you're guaranteed a spot. If you win the SEC, Big 10, ACC, with only one loss, chances are you're gonna be in it. So, right now, you have no one to blame but yourself if you don't get into the top four. It's not like there's teams saying 'we went undefeated and we're not in it.' So it works for now.
Any predictions for how this year's playoff will shake out?
If I had to pick teams, in the Capital One Orange Bowl I'd go with Clemson. I think they're a little better on defense, their pass defense is stronger, and offensively, Deshaun Watson can sling it around. I just think they're a very complete team.
Alabama is just tough to go against. I'm a big Connor Cook fan. I like the mobility he brings to the table for Michigan State. If he can do the things he usually does against Alabama, they'll win. but it's gonna be tough. I would pick Alabama. And then in that matchup with Clemson and Alabama, that would be a toss-up.
I have trouble picking against Nick Saban. He's been there before. The sentimental favorite for me would be Clemson, but I would pick Alabama.
It's definitely hard to go against Nick Saban there.
I love spread offenses, that's why I love the Orange Bowl game. I like the two matchups. Oklahoma-Clemson, two turn-it-loose teams. Then the two physical teams beating the tar out of each other in the Cotton Bowl.
You enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the CFL before spending the latter portion of your career in the NFL. There's been so much talk about an NFL team potentially relocating to London. Based on your experiences with Canadian football fans, are you surprised that there hasn't been more talk about an NFL franchise in Canada?
That does surprise me. I think Toronto could handle a team -- it'd be tough. They aren't as die-hard football fans as we are in the states. They do love their Canadian football, but you know what? They love the NFL more. If you were to bring an NFL team into Toronto, the CFL team would disappear. All that being said, when they do have exhibition games there, they don't sell -- they do jack up the prices of the tickets -- but they don't sell out.
I think it's tough for them to support a team for the entire season. They get excited about those [single] games, whether it's a regular season game or an exhibition game played up there. It's just that hockey is No. 1 up there. The problem with London is the travel more than anything.
You've been outspoken after your career about head injuries you sustained, and what you might have done differently now. 'Concussion,' in theaters now, has gained a lot of attention. What kind of effect do you think it could have on football moving forward -- bringing it in front of such a broad audience?
It's such a powerful thing when it's put in a movie theater. When it's talk -- on talk radio, or a column that someone wrote, it's always opinion. And people just kind of view it as "that's just another opinion out there." All of a sudden they're in the movie theater, watching an explosive movie about it. It hits home to a lot of people.
It will definitely put pressure on the NFL, whether it's right or wrong. Whether it's valid or not, it'll put a lot more pressure on the NFL to come up with solutions, or more legislation toward protection of players. I don't know what the answer is. But it will definitely put a lot of pressure on them.
You've brought up specific example of your career where you suffered a concussion and then played through it. Oftentimes there's a thought among athletes that says, "If i have to risk my health when i'm 50 or 60 in order to win this game, or score this touchdown, i'm gonna do it" was that your feeling then?
You don't think about your long-term health, when you're 50 or 60. You're not thinking of it in that perspective. You're thinking of it in the moment -- you're conditioned, since you were 10 years old, that if I can help my team win, I'm helping. If I can walk, I'm playing. You're gonna have to pull me off the field. That was just your mentality. It was a tough-guy mentality; it's always been that way. I tore a tendon in my elbow -- I played the rest of that game and started the next one, then finally had to come out. It's just -- you do that.
You've been through so much together as a team -- during the offseason training, during training camp, preparing. There's so much at stake in your mind. You don't want to let your teammates down. And that's the bottom line. If you feel you can help your team win, you stay on the field.
Aside from head injuries, getting older as an nfl quarterback presents issues in itself. We're seeing it this year with Peyton Manning, who was struggling so much early in the season, now is down with a foot injury. When you were in the latter portion of your career, what kinds of adjustments did you need to make to stay competitive?
No. 1, it becomes more and more difficult to stay healthy. You've got to find other ways to condition and work out without beating yourself up too badly. That's the biggest challenge. When you're healthy, you're as good as you were when you were 28. You've gotta learn little tricks.
One is babying yourself during the week in practice -- not doing certain things and not getting too many throws, all that stuff. I didn't even realize I was doing it -- when I go back and watch film of my latter years, all of a sudden I'm getting rid of the ball faster. You're getting the ball out of your hands and you're not letting things develop down the field. When you were younger, you stood in there and took more hits, drifted the pocket a little bit, stepped up and threw to allow a guy to run a double-move and beat a guy deep.
Now, all of a sudden, toward the end of your career, everything is timing. The ball's out because you know -- and it's not even a conscious decision -- but you know if you take too many hits, you're not gonna hold up. And it's more of a subconscious thing than anything. Maybe if you're arm strength isn't where it was, you're throwing the ball a little earlier, from a timing standpoint, and the percentages go down. You try to put the ball in the air a little quicker with some touch on it so the guy can run under it. And all of a sudden your percentages drop. Those types of things.
Toward the end of your career, was there one sudden realization that you realized it was time to move on? Or was it more gradual?
I had a chance to start some games when I was 42 years old and I played very well. I could still make people miss, I ran with the football. I had two rushing touchdowns in a game. I could still be me. I had had a knee scope that year, and the next year coming back, I went to New England for my final year. And there were days where I felt pretty good running, but it wasn't the same.
All of a sudden, during that year, my back was tight, I wasn't throwing the ball quite as well. On any given day, yeah, I could still go out and get it done. But on a day-in, day-out basis, I wasn't at the same point. It was like "I'm gonna have to do things a little differently here." To go out there in the fourth quarter of a game? Sure. But if I had to go out there and start a stretch of three or four games, I don't think so.