Originally created 11/27/98

Flutie threw the pass, but who caught it?



BOSTON -- On the day after Thanksgiving 14 years ago, Doug Flutie threw "The Pass" that jolted Miami. The man who caught it doesn't mind being overshadowed.

His mother, after all, calls it "The Catch."

Flutie won the Heisman Trophy with Boston College that year, played in the USFL, starred in the CFL and is still in the spotlight as one of this year's surprise successes in the NFL.

The man who caught The Pass blew out his left knee in his first training camp, never played an NFL game and settled into the life of a successful suburban businessman with three young children.

Flutie will be the focus Sunday when he returns to his home state with the Buffalo Bills to face the New England Patriots.

The man who caught The Pass doesn't plan to go to the game. "I kind of hang with my kids," he says.

Gerard Phelan was one of just three receivers lined up on the right side for that last play as Boston College trailed Miami, the defending national champions, 45-41. Flutie took the snap, rolled to the right and heaved the ball high into the dark sky above the Orange Bowl.

Phelan drifted to the back of the pack, a few yards past the goal line. The ball descended into his chest for a 48-yard touchdown as he dropped to the earth. Then he and Flutie leaped in jubilation.

The Eagles won 47-45, went on to win the Cotton Bowl and finished the season ranked fifth, the highest in school history.

"There's two sides of it," said Phelan, one of the nation's top receivers in 1984. "Doug, clearly, any time he's asked about it, says `I just threw the ball. Gerard made a great catch.' I see it as he made a good pass and I made a good catch."

Another pass didn't work out nearly as well.

Phelan was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round in 1985. During training camp that summer, he ran about 20 yards up the right side, planted his foot to come back to the ball and collapsed without being hit.

"It was, essentially, a blown-out knee," Phelan said.

He had surgery a few days later and missed the entire season in which the Patriots went to the Super Bowl. He returned to camp in 1986, but "there was just too much inflammation and pain" and he went on injured reserve following another operation.

Midway through the season, he was released. He tried to catch on with Houston and Green Bay but didn't pass the physicals.

The man who caught Flutie's Pass doesn't remember who threw the pass that ended his career.

"One of the reasons people tune in so much is that's the way the game is," Phelan said. "You're a second away from sheer elation and a second away from tragedy. That gamut of emotion is what makes the game so appealing."

Flutie, meanwhile, keeps playing.

"For him, competing is what makes the big difference," said Phelan, who doesn't see his ex-teammate much, "whether it's in the Canadian League or the NFL or the USFL or on the sandlots."

The premature end to his own career didn't devastate Phelan, now 35 and married 12 years. Instead, he focuses on the highlights -- three consecutive bowl games, part of one of the most famous plays in football history, teammate of a Heisman Trophy winner and a trip to the Super Bowl even though he didn't play in it.

And, as vice president of sales for a large Boston firm that prints financial literature, he's often asked by associates about that nationally televised game in Miami.

"People say, `I call it the pass and you made the catch.' I say, `that's very nice. I appreciate that,' " Phelan said. "Everybody shares their stories with me. In most cases, they were with family and friends because it was the day after Thanksgiving."

On this day after Thanksgiving, 14 years later, Phelan's brother's family planned to visit from Baltimore. A round of golf, good food and, perhaps, some time in front of the television were on the menu.

"I'm sure there's got to be some college game on," Phelan said.