It's the 'Pro' Football Hall of Fame, after all
So, really, the more interesting question isn't the one about whether Doug Flutie somehow did enough during his years of playing football to merit a spot in the Hall of Fame. I mean, that's a question, obviously. It's just not the good one.
No, the more interesting question is this: Who put you in charge?
|Warren Moon will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. A comparison of his professional numbers with Doug Flutie's:|
Who gave the NFL the keys to the executive washroom in Canton? Where on the building does it say "Pro Football Hall of Fame, a Mark Goodson/Paul Tagliabue Production?"
Doug Flutie might have no more business rushing the steps of the place than Paul Crewe, but I'll tell you what: Flutie had one startling, statistics-grabbing, championship-winning, scramble-matic career in pro football. He just didn't do the best of it in the NFL.
If they chose to chisel that onto a plaque somewhere, it wouldn't be a violation of the sacred laws. Or do I have that one wrong?
When Flutie's retirement was announced Monday, the Hall of Fame question came up pretty quick. It's a fair thing to ask, in the sense that Flutie passed for more than 58,000 yards in his career and wound up with 369 touchdown throws. He also was named the top player in his league six times, and he played on three championship teams.
Alas, the league was the Canadian Football League. And even if I could construct an argument that Flutie dominated the CFL at a time when it was in one of its more impressive periods in terms of overall talent, what does that matter to you, drinker of (insert liquid here), official beverage of the National Football League?
More to the point, what does that mean in Canton-ese?
Only Warren Moon has made the Hall of Fame with a significant CFL blot on his résumé, and you get the feeling the voters this year sort of agreed not to hold that against him rather than actually considering it in his favor. In Flutie's case, though, the opposite effect is in play: Doug's best years undoubtedly came in Canada, and he was truly, almost transcendently, excellent during those years. What's that worth?
As an NFL quarterback, Flutie was maybe a career B-minus. He had some good years among the 12 he spent in Tha League. He certainly had some nice moments. But he was a limited product in many ways; he spent most of his seasons as a backup, and his yardage total includes not quite 15,000 worth of passes thrown in places like Chicago, San Diego and greater Foxborough. Viewed strictly in terms of NFL service, he wouldn't be considered seriously by a Hall voter.
All fair. But Flutie's is also a terrific professional story. He's a player who ventured through all three leagues that were really available to him in his time: the USFL, the NFL and the CFL. Along the way, he constructed a 21-season career built almost entirely on perseverance.
Again, they don't really hold open a wing of the Hall of Fame for Guys Who Tried Awfully Hard. Still, Flutie's case is one of the very few instances in modern memory in which a player could be debated even mildly without having compiled his best work in the NFL.
One of the counterarguments you get in a conversation like this is the dreaded draw-the-line theory, as in, "If they let Flutie in for being a good CFL quarterback, where does the madness stop? Is Mark Grieb next, with his shimmering Arena Football League numbers?"
It's low-grade mumbling, of course, since there isn't another case remotely similar to Flutie's (unless you know of a sizzling hot NFL Europe player I've somehow been missing in my weekly updates). Beyond that, it's a given that all leagues are not created equal, that there is no sister to the NFL anywhere, and that, generally speaking, the best football players on Earth are toiling in the Tagliabue Division. I'm guessing the Canton voters know that.
Flutie is the weird case. He's the one who forces the more interesting conversation. He could have been a few inches taller and had a more impressive run in the NFL. Since he wasn't taller, he took his mobility and his guile and carved up the CFL for eight years before making a rather successful second stand with the Bills, Chargers and Patriots.
All told, he had a great ride. He did win titles. He was the MVP (or the Most Outstanding Player, as the CFL dubs it). He was, for years, The Man in his league, the best at what he did.
He had legions of fans. He had avid followers. He confounded coaches, stirred up teammates, had an ego, threw touchdowns, made money -- the whole deal. He lived a bunch of professional lifetimes in a single career.
You'd love to believe the folks in Canton would ponder all that. It's the "Pro" Football Hall of Fame, after all. How much more pro is a guy supposed to get?
Mark Kreidler of The Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN's "Cold Pizza." Reach him at email@example.com