Today, there was no miracle. There was no ending that will be remembered forever. Doug Flutie did not, as some people had guessed he might, kick a 60-yard field goal to win the Cotton Bowl for Boston College.
Instead, when he could not pass the football effectively in the Arctic winds that blew through the stadium all afternoon, Flutie turned to his teammates for help. They responded superbly and he was able to end his remarkable college career with a 45-28 victory over unranked Houston in the 49th Cotton Bowl.
This time, there was no scramble and heave at the finish for Flutie. Instead, he spent the last seconds trying to wave the oncoming BC fans off the field. When the last play was run, he made his escape with offensive guard Mark Bardwell and wide receiver Gerard Phelan leading the way as four state troopers trailed in their wake.
If Flutie was bothered by his statistics -- 13 of 37 passes completed for 180 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions -- he didn't show it. Just before he reached the tunnel to the locker room, he paused in front of the Boston College fans and leaped into the air joyously, shaking his fists.
"I know I had a mediocre day," he said moments later. "But the way the guys responded was great. When we had to run the ball, we ran the ball. When the defense had to do the job, they did the job. This is a great feeling."
Phelan, Flutie's roommate, best friend and the receiver on The Pass (Flutie's last-second, 48-yard pass that beat Miami, 47-45), was more succinct: "Miami was a miracle," he said. "This was just the completion of a dream come true."
It came true for Flutie, Phelan and the rest of the eighth-ranked Eagles (10-2) in rather ragged fashion as 56,522 shivered for 3 hours 38 minutes in 32-degree temperatures that felt much colder in a 20-mph wind.
They controlled the first 29 minutes of the game, taking a 31-7 lead. Then they watched in dismay as Houston (7-5) scored 21 straight points to make it 31-28 before the third quarter was over. And finally, this team, which built its reputation on razzle-dazzle, try-anything football, regained control of the game by running nine straight times to drive 45 yards for the touchdown that put it ahead, 38-28, with 5:45 left. In all, Boston College rushed for 353 yards.
The Eagles, with 533 yards in total offense, broke Missouri's record of 514 yards against Texas in 1946. And no Cotton Bowl team had scored more than the 41 points Penn State got against Baylor in 1975.
"We always knew we could run the football if we had to," said fullback Steve Strachan, who scored two touchdowns and was voted offensive MVP of the game. "Doug's passing got us here but it was really nice that when he needed the running game, it was there."
For a long time, it appeared all Boston College needed was Flutie and his receivers -- plus a little help from an opportunistic defense.
Flutie started off predictably, passing for a 63-yard touchdown to Kelvin Martin on the first play of Boston College's second series to make it 7-0 with 8:15 left in the first quarter.
Five minutes later, it was 14-0. After nose guard Mike Ruth recovered fullback Mat Pierson's fumble at the Houston 26, Flutie needed four plays to reach the end zone, completing the drive with an eight-yard pass to tailback Troy Stradford. Before the day was over, Stradford would rush 20 times for 196 yards.
"The good start helped a lot," Flutie said. "After all the hype this week, it was nice for us to score quickly and get our feet on the ground right away. We wanted to be up right away."
Houston got its feet on the ground a few seconds later. Earl Allen took the kickoff, cut to the sideline, then back to the middle and went 98 yards to make it 14-7. But almost immediately, Boston College's defense answered with a big play of its own.
With the Cougars at their 25, quarterback Gerald Landry pitched to Raymond Tate. The ball bounced off Tate's chest and into the hands of Tony Thurman, who returned to the 15.
The bounce set up Kevin Snow's 31-yard field goal that made it 17-7 as the first quarter ended. It stayed that way until, with 4:38 left in the half, Flutie passed to Phelan for a 13-yard touchdown at the end of a 53 yard-drive.
"It's called, '20-jump, C-slant,' " Phelan explained. "The tailback fakes a dive into the line to try to sucker the cornerback. He bit and Doug hit me. The one step is all you need."
It was "20-jump" without the "C-slant" that produced the Eagles' next score. Strachan, a high jumper in high school, hurtled two yards to make it 31-7 with 1:41 left in the half after an interception by Todd Russell and a return to the Houston 39.
It appeared that the game was over. "Everything felt good," said Boston College Coach Jack Bicknell. "But when they drove right back and scored before the half, I was thinking about West Virginia."
Bicknell's concern came after a 15-yard pass from Landry to Larry Shepherd had made it 31-14 at the half. Boston College had blown a 20-6 halftime lead against West Virginia, losing by 23-20. In the third quarter today, Bicknell's worries appeared justified. First, Tate ran two yards to make it 31-21. Two plays after the kickoff, Flutie had to make a one-hand grab of a high snap from the shotgun at his 18. He scrambled right, avoided a tackle, then threw right to defender Audrey McMillian, who caught it at the 25 and ran into the end zone with 3:10 left in the third quarter to make it 31-28.
"We regrouped at halftime," McMillian said. "We were overemotional in the first half. Once we calmed down, we had the momentum until the holding calls."
Those calls came after Boston College had punted early in the fourth quarter. Houston moved to a first down at its 48. On the next play, Tate went 22 yards but, as Houston fans, celebrated, the play came back: holding. Two plays later, another hold was called and the Cougars had to punt.
"Bad calls," Landry insisted. "They really killed us there."
If that didn't kill them, Boston College's nine play, grind-it-out drive did. "We just decided, 'Let's run the ball three straight plays and see what happens,' " Flutie said. What happened was a fourth-and-inches play at the Cougars' 36. Flutie called "20-jump," Strachan leaped again and gained three yards. From there, the Eagles rolled in, Strachan going right for the last five yards.
Later, in the warmth and safety of the locker room, Flutie admitted he was glad the week was over. "I need a chance to get away and relax," he said. "Maybe later, I can look back and savor this."
A few feet away, Phelan glanced for a moment toward Flutie. "Maybe someday, Doug and I will play in the Super Bowl together." He smiled. "Sounds crazy maybe but, after all, you've always got to keep dreaming. That's what got us here today.
"We dreamed and our dreams came true."