Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Fond memories for Phelan never fade
By Jack McCluskey ESPNBoston.com
It's a silly question, really. Because what else is he going to say?
But we'll ask it, anyway.
Do you have a favorite memory from the 1984 season?
"Obviously winning the game in Miami was a great moment," Gerard Phelan said. "I think that must be everybody's No. 1, at least from that season. The Miracle in Miami."
It happened 27 years ago this week.
What happened? Well, let's let Brent Musburger tell it: "Flutie flushed throws it down caught by Boston College! I don't believe it! It's a touchdown! The Eagles win it! I don't believe it. Phelan's at the bottom of that pile!"
Boston College 47, Miami 45. The defending national champion Hurricanes and their Heisman Trophy candidate Bernie Kosar had been beaten, by little BC and its QB, Doug Flutie, on national television the day after Thanksgiving. On a 48-yard Hail Mary as time expired, Phelan pulling the ball in as he fell backward into the end zone behind a pack of Canes defensive backs.
It happened 27 years ago, but not a day goes by without someone asking Phelan about it.
He knew it would happen. "It occurred to me that I now forever will be known as the guy who caught the pass," he said. "That hasn't changed after all these years."
Aren't you the guy who caught that pass?
"I think anybody would consider themselves fortunate to be part of something like that," Phelan said. "That's the great part of the game: you can be a hero or a goat in an instant."
So while the questions may all be the same, he's OK with answering. The answer never gets any less thrilling. Miami never wins. Boston College never loses.
"I got a chance to live it on national television," he said, "that'll never get old."
Why doesn't it get old? Why hasn't the passage of time dulled the pass' impact? There have been others, of course. Just this season, Michigan State beat Wisconsin with a heart-stopping Hail Mary.
Why, then, does Flutie to Phelan endure 27 years later?
"I think America was rooting for the underdog," Phelan said. "Boston College being the underdog. And although Doug wasn't the underdog in terms of talent, he was undersized and he was a guy that people could identify with."
It also probably has to do with the back-and-forth nature of the game, and with Flutie winning the Heisman two weeks later -- which, to Phelan, was a great way to salute Flutie for his historic body of work as a college QB, and not just for that one play.
"I guess that whole game," Flutie said, when asked what he wished people remembered of the '84 season. "More than that play, it was that whole game, I think. It was just, offensively, we played so well from beginning to end."
Phelan said on the trip home he and Flutie, "Got an opportunity to see what it was like to be a rock star."
There were thousands of people at the airport, waiting for them. There were so many people, they couldn't get to the bus and had to be whisked away in a police cruiser. And still, there were people outside, pressing against the glass and rocking the car.
"I remember thinking to myself after the game -- sometime after -- 'He's gonna win the Heisman, I can't imagine them giving it to someone else,'" he said. "So it was fun. For me, it was surreal. To think that a couple of undersized kids at a school that's not really known for such things were really living it."
They've been reliving it ever since, and with BC in Miami to play the Hurricanes on Friday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) there's no doubt the clip will be played again. And again. And again.
They'll see the grainy footage and hear Musburger's call for TV and the radio call from Dan Davis: "He did it! He did it! Flutie did it! He got Phelan in the end zone! Touchdown! Oh my goodness what a play! Flutie to Gerard Phelan! Forty-eight yards! No time on the clock, it's all over!"
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.