Today, NFL Throwback posted a Doug Flutie highlight reel pondering how Flutie would've faired in the modern NFL where short kings like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray have excelled.
As a historian and frequent cannabis user, I'm constantly thinking, "what if?" I love seeing how intertwined things are and how much minor tweaks could change history. Gavrilo Princip had given up trying to assassinate Franz Ferdinand but ended up getting face-to-face with him and his wife, thanks to the driver taking a wrong turn. If the driver knew what he was doing, does World War I happen? (probably, but it's still crazy to think about) Every decision you've ever made in your entire life lead you to this blog.
My parents met because of fucking a personal ad (tinder before the internet). What if my mom or dad (I forget who wrote the ad) didn't read the paper that day? You sure as shit wouldn't be reading dozonlife right now!
So even though I was only seven years old during the peak of Flutie-mania in Buffalo, I'm well aware of the Rob Johnson-Doug Flutie QB controversy and the repercussions of the decision to bench Flutie in the 1999 playoffs. I don't remember it in real-time, but I've watched enough NFL Films for two lifetimes. I'm a student of the game!
If you're unfamiliar with the backstory, in 1998, the Bills traded for Rob Johnson after he had one (1) good game for the Jaguars in Week 1 of the 1997 season, starting for an injured Mark Brunell. Rob Johnson was the prototypical QB of the time; a 6' 4", strong-armed, not very mobile, white dude. Buffalo then signed Johnson to an at the time, huge five year-25 million dollar deal.
The Bills also signed CFL star and 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie to a league-minimum deal that same offseason. After Rob Johnson started the '98 season 1-3 and got injured in week 5, Flutie took over, going 7-3 in 10 starts. The Bills finished 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in the post-Jim Kelly era. Flutie was an instant fan favorite and beloved by his teammates.
Flutie remained the Bills starter in 1999 for the first 15 games of the season, leading them to 10 wins and another playoff berth. Since the Bills were locked into their playoff position Week 17 against the Colts, Doug Flutie "rested" and Rob Johnson started that game. Johnson played well and remained as the starter in the 1999-00 playoffs to the surprise of many. The decision was super controversial at the time. Wade Phillips has since said team owner Ralph Wilson made the call, likely because of the money the Bills had invested in Johnson and because he "looked the part."
The Bills first (and only) playoff game was the 1999 AFC Wild Card Game, better known by many as the "Music City Miracle" game. Despite Rob Johnson's 10-22 for 131 yards, 0 TD or INT, 6 sack (including a safety) performance, the Bills lead 16-15 with 16 seconds remaining. Buffalo kicked a field goal on 3rd down with 20 seconds left, fearing that Johnson would get sacked and knock them out of field goal range before the most famous kickoff return in NFL history took place.
In their first season as the Tennessee Titans, the Titans rode that momentum to the Super Bowl, where they played in a game with another classic game, infamously coming up one yard short against the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.
Maybe it just hits closer to home because I was benched for the playoffs in not one but two high school sports. I can empathize with Flutie's situation. He deserved that start. That was his team. I've always thought about how the decision to start Rob Johnson drastically altered NFL history, so I tweeted this at NFL Throwback during lunch between telling students to make sure they're sitting on the right side of the table.
In case you're unfamiliar with the Butterfly Effect (I have been seriously slacking on my adobe training :/)
Basically, it's the idea that one small decision can have a considerable impact. Now benching Flutie wasn't the same as a butterfly flapping its wings, causing a tornado on the other side of the world, but this decision drastically altered NFL history. Imagine NFL lore without the Music City Miracle?
I'm not saying the Bills win or lose if Flutie starts that game, but my entire point is the Music City Miracle (likely) never happens if he does. Sure, hypothetically, the Titans could've found themselves in a similar situation if Flutie played, but I highly doubt history plays out the same if Flutie started. I know that Jeff Fisher called the actual play "Home Run Throwback" ran it during walk-throughs every week and that Kevin Dyson wasn't even supposed to be on the field for that play, but IMO this is a textbook example of the butterfly effect in sports. The decision to start Johnson over Flutie set off a chain of events that lead to the Music City Miracle.
The 1999 playoffs featured two of the most well-known plays in NFL history (both already referenced). Does either happen if Flutie starts? Do the 1999 Jaguars make the Super Bowl if the Titans lose this game? (The Titans were the only team to beat them that season; 15-0 vs. everybody else). Maybe Peyton Manning's Colts do? How different is Peyton's career if he goes to/wins a Super Bowl in year two instead of year nine? Do the Titans become popular and a staple of Nashville without their 1999 playoff run? Is Steve McNair still alive today? What would Helen Hunt and Tom Hanks talk about at the end of Cast Away? The possibilities are endless.
Now you could be an idiotic ass hole like this guy:
oooooorrrr you could have a little fun and play the what-if game.
Sure, you could have a 14-year-old's attitude with a stupid point like that or think about actual plays/coaching decisions and how one thing could forever alter sports.
Here are some quick examples off the topic of my head.
-Asante Samuel Catches the Interception He Dropped the Play Before the Helmet Catch.
Patriots go 19-0, are considered the greatest team in NFL history. Mercury Morris probably kills himself. Nobody knows who David Tyree is, and Eli Manning likely never makes the Hall of Fame. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Logan Mankins all have a ring now :(
-Don Dekinger Makes the Right Call During Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
With the leadoff man out, do the Cardinals hold on to win that World Series? That means players like George Brett and Bret Saberhagen never win a ring and Terry Pendleton (0-5 in World Series) does. With a second ring, does Whitey Herzog’s “Whiteyball" revolutionize the way baseball is played going forward? What does this mean for the steroid era?
Brandon Bostick Doesn't Fuck Up the Onside Kick in the 2014 NFC Championship Game.
Aaron Rodgers gets back to a second Super Bowl and my favorite interception of all time doesn't happen two weeks later. Do we see a guy like Julius Peppers win a ring? Do people respect Mike McCarthy? Is Pete Carroll still in Seattle? This game has like 15 key plays where the Packers could've put the game away.
There are literally countless possibilities of butterfly effect moments in sports, making this such a fun topic to discuss. What if Malcolm Butler plays in Super Bowl LII? What happens to the Bills if Scott Norwood's kick is three feet to the left? What if Belichick stayed with the Jets? What if Alex Smith didn't get hurt in 2012 and Colin Kaepernick never gets a chance in San Fran? Now I've really opened a can of worms. I'm just super intrigued by the potential dominos that fall if Flutie starts instead of Rob Johnson. Say Flutie wins and remains the starter in Buffalo. Does that mean he never ends up in San Diego to mentor Drew Brees? How does Brees' career play out? Does he even up in New Orleans? Do millions of people never learn what a dropkick is? I could go on forever, baby!
What's your favorite example of the butterfly effect moment in sports history? Sound off in the comments!