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BC wins on Hail Mary

On November 23, 1984, Boston College’s diminutive quarterback Doug Flutie throws a last-second 64-yard pass to beat the University of Miami 47-45. The 30,235 fans in the Orange Bowl had already begun to celebrate the victory they were sure their Hurricanes had won, and they were stunned when Flutie’s pass found his teammate (and roommate) Gerard Phelan in the end zone. The receiver, for his part, was just as stunned: “He threw it a long, long way,” Phelan said after the game. “I didn’t think he could throw the ball that far.”

It was a spectacular ending to a spectacular game. In all, Miami moved the ball 655 yards and had 32 first downs.; BC countered with 627 yards and 30 first downs. Together, the Hurricanes and the Eagles ran 150 plays; on average, each play gained almost nine yards. And in the last 20 minutes of the game, the teams traded the lead back and forth six times.

With 28 seconds to go in the game, Miami’s Melvin Bratton plowed one yard through BC’s defensive line to score a crucial touchdown that gave the Hurricanes a four-point lead. The Eagles set up on their own 20-yard line and made it to the Miami 48 in 22 seconds. There was time for one more play. In the huddle, Flutie called for the “55 Flood Tip”–a play the Eagles practiced every Thursday but had rarely used. It went like this: Phelan would head for the end zone, flanked by two wide receivers; Flutie would hurl the ball in their direction; and Phelan, having drawn all the defense away from his teammates, would jump up and tip the ball to one receiver or the other.

Of course, that’s not quite how it went. Phelan bolted down the field, while Flutie drew back to the 37. The clock ran out. Flutie threw the ball as hard as he could. After the game, he said: “I just let it fly toward the pile–not necessarily toward Gerard Phelan, but where I thought everybody was going to be. I saw the ball go down over two defenders’ heads and I thought it fell incomplete into the end zone.” Phelan, meanwhile, was alone in the end zone. Miami’s defensive backs were so sure that Flutie couldn’t throw the ball all the way down the field that they didn’t pay any attention to the receiver behind them. They should have: Flutie’s pass sailed over their heads and hit Phelan squarely in the chest. His feet didn’t even leave the ground.

The pass won the game for the Eagles, who went on to finish 10-2 and be ranked fourth in the country. It also made Flutie the first player in college football history to pass for more than 10,000 yards in his career. He won the Heisman Trophy eight days after his so-called “Miracle in Miami.” Since NFL scouts thought he was too short (he was 5’9″) to play in their league, Flutie headed north and became one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Canadian Football League. Eventually he came back to the NFL, playing for the Buffalo Bills and the San Diego Chargers before he returned to Boston to finish his career with the Patriots. He retired in 2005.


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