Twenty years later, The Pass still give chills

Originally Published: November 22, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Len DeLuca, the ESPN senior vice-president for programming strategy (translation: network suit) has in his office a videotape machine that plays three-quarter-inch tape. If that means nothing to you, it would be like saying he has in his office a Victrola, right next to his manual typewriter.

DeLuca is a graduate of Boston College (1974) and of Boston College Law (1977), from which he graduated one year after John Kerry. With his height and his personality, Len DeLuca could sue The Coca-Cola Company for using the name "Sprite" without his permission.

Anyway, three-quarter-inch videotape is a relic of the 1980s -- before VHS, much less digital video. DeLuca keeps the machine for one reason.

"So I can watch the game," he said. "I have a copy without commercials."

Twenty years ago Tuesday, Doug Flutie threw The Pass, 48 yards in the box score, 63 yards through the air, and from here to eternity in the collective mind of college football fans.

Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie gets a lift from his brother Darren after he lifted BC to new heights with The Pass.
When the play, called Flood Tip, began, Boston College was a northeastern Catholic school with a spotty history of college football success. When Gerard Phelan caught the ball in the end zone with no time remaining, and the Eagles defeated defending national champion Miami, 47-45, Boston College was transformed into a national university.

If you want to know when BC took its first step down Tobacco Road, its first step toward a destiny that would include membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference, flip your calendar back to Nov. 23, 1984.

This was an era before 19 Days of Football, before ESPN GamePlan. A network showed a game, and the entire nation watched. DeLuca and the CBS executive producer for college sports, Kevin O'Malley -- another BC grad -- felt confident that Flutie's magic would translate beyond the alums that he held in thrall.

In the spring, CBS made a deal with the NCAA in which the network picked three games that it knew would be bulletproof. CBS picked Army-Navy, UCLA-Nebraska, and Boston College-Miami. The latter was slotted in for the day after Thanksgiving.

"Everybody in the country looked in on that game, eating a turkey sandwich," said Jack Bicknell, Jr. "Now you're flipping around from one game to another."

Bicknell, now the head coach of Louisiana Tech, was the center for the 1984 Eagles and the son of the team's coach. The Pass has been replayed more than an episode of I Love Lucy -- commercials, feature stories, you name it -- and Bicknell's reaction never changes.

"It brings chills to you," he says. "I haven't watched the entire game in a long time. When I see the play, it still brings chills. It's amazing to me how much people talk about it. Everywhere I go to speak, I am introduced as, 'This is the guy who snapped the ball to Flutie.'"

Bicknell has only seen it on tape. He never came close to seeing it live.

"I was flat on my back," Bicknell said. "They had a guy over the guard. I kicked out to help and he ran me over. I reached up to grab him instinctively. I never touched him. I don't know whether he tripped over my feet or what. It wasn't like I pulled him down. I was scared to death. I didn't even enjoy the moment because I was thinking, 'Please, God in heaven, don't let me see a flag.' That would have been the end of me."

In the days before sideline reporters, Brent Musberger shared the booth with Pat Haden and Ara Parseghian. When Phelan cradled the ball in his gut, Musberger screamed,

"Caught by Boston College! I don't believe it!"

Musberger didn't immediately identify Phelan because his spotter got so excited he began jumping up and down and failed to point out who had caught the ball. Dan (Duke) Davis, the voice of Boston College football then and an ESPN radio fixture now, screamed Phelan's name immediately, and then, "Flutie did it!"

The legend was born that day, and now the legend is no longer a teenager. Flutie won the Heisman. Boston College went on to win the 1985 Cotton Bowl, their first New Year's Day game since 1943. With a win over Syracuse on Saturday, Boston College will clinch the Big East championship and its first major bowl berth since Flutie.

The championship this year will be relished but at the end of an awkward, lame-duck season in the Big East, the university is anxious to move on to the ACC. It's hard to imagine that anything that happens in the next few weeks will have one iota of the emotional impact that Flutie's pass delivered, not just to Boston College, but the nation as a whole.

In 1990, six years after the Pass, CBS Sports produced a show in which it counted down the greatest sports moments that the network had ever televised. The winner wasn't Joe Montana leading the two-minute drive that propelled San Francisco over Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI. It wasn't even 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus's back-nine 30 to win the 1986 Masters.

Flood Tip, aka The Pass, was deemed the network's greatest sports moment. Fourteen years later, on its 20th birthday, it still reigns supreme.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com