Remembering Flutie Flakes

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  • By Grant Pardee
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Doug Flutie only played a few short seasons in Buffalo, but the quarterback's impact on the Bills was enormous.

During his three years with the team, Flutie never received the opportunity to start a full season, but when he did have a chance to play, he capitalized. In the late '90s, Flutie went from an NFL wash-out to a huge star, both regionally and nationally.

There is no better representation of this specific era than Flutie Flakes.

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Flutie launched his brand of cornflakes in 1998, when he replaced an injured Rob Johnson at quarterback for the Bills. His combination of scrambling and late-game heroics quickly endeared him to fans as he led the 0-3 Bills to a 10-6 record into the playoffs.

The cereal was a huge hit, selling over 3 million boxes, with the proceeds donated to autism research in honor of Flutie's son, who is autistic. Ask any Bills fan: you couldn't go to a Wegmans in Western New York without discovering they'd already sold out of Flutie Flakes.

Flutie's underdog narrative matched perfectly with Buffalo's own self-perception as a hard-luck town. By the time Flutie joined the Bills, the QB was already over 35 years old, far past what is considered a player's prime. Despite his success at Boston College and winning multiple championships and MVP awards in the Canadian Football League, Flutie hadn't received interest from NFL teams -- mostly because with a height of 5'10, he was seen as "too short" to be effective.

Flutie's time as the Bills' quarterback made critics eat their words. In 1998, Flutie earned Comeback Player of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl selection; he remains the shortest QB to be selected to the Pro Bowl since 1970.

Unfortunately, his comeback season ended on a sour note when the Bills lost their wildcard game against Miami. Flutie Flakes had become so ubiquitous by that time that Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson had his players stomp on a box in the locker room to celebrate. When he heard about the stunt, Flutie told the media: "As far as I'm concerned, that's stepping on my son," which shamed Johnson enough that he issued an apology two days later.

In the 1999 campaign, Flutie led the Bills to a 10-5 record but was benched in the final game of the season in favor of Rob Johnson, ostensibly because the game would have no bearing on Buffalo's playoff position. But Johnson's stellar performance (287 yards, two TDs, a 120.4 QB rating) sharply contrasted with Flutie's struggles throughout the year and led fans to wonder if the younger, taller Johnson should retake the starting spot. Head coach Wade Phillips made the surprising decision to make the change immediately and kept Flutie on the sidelines the following week for Buffalo's playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

The Bills lost on a last-second trick play the Titans called "The Home Run Throwback." Broadcasters dubbed it "The Music City Miracle."

That game has continued to haunt the franchise. In the 17 years since, the Bills have not returned to the playoffs. The Bills' playoff drought is the longest in NFL history since the 1970 merger, the longest among the four major American professional sports leagues, and has come to be known as the "Flutie Curse."

Time has been kind to Flutie's legacy. His electric style of play was unconventional at the time, but today, QBs who have the ability to run are the new standard. Tyrod Taylor, the Bills' quarterback since 2015, has been rightly compared to Michael Vick, but he also plays a similar style of game as Flutie. Like Flutie, Taylor has battled perceptions that he isn't starting-caliber, despite his obvious talents and hard-earned success on the field.

Perhaps it makes karmic sense that Tyrod Taylor could be the QB to end the Flutie Curse. Nearly halfway through the 2017 season, the Buffalo Bills currently sit in playoff position at 4-2.

If this year's Bills successfully vanquish the curse, the real question will be -- will we see Tyrod bring back those old 10-10-220 commercials?

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