Doug Flutie made his grand entrance at the New Jersey Generals' training camp today and Brian Sipe made an exit, sent to the Jacksonville Bulls in a startling trade.
Sipe went to the Bulls in exchange for a high pick in the 1986 open draft and "other considerations," said Generals President Jason Seltzer in announcing the trade that makes Flutie the undisputed starting quarterback in his first day of U.S. Football League camp.
The Heisman Trophy winner, who arrived just Tuesday night and spent a nerve-wracking day of practice, was accidentally told of the trade in a live TV interview. He was described as "aghast" by Seltzer.
The deal, which began after Flutie's press conference to announce his signing in New York Tuesday and concluded late this afternoon, solved the problem of a quarterback controversy. Sipe packed his bags and left for Jacksonville shortly after practice ended at 4:10 p.m., with most of the Generals unaware of his departure.
It was an unceremonious exit for Sipe, who led the Generals to the U.S. Football League playoffs last season, where they lost to the ultimate champion Philadelphia (now Baltimore) Stars. Sipe had been vocal earlier in the week about his reluctance to enter into a quarterback controversy with Flutie, and had greeted him gracefully when the Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College arrived for his first practice this morning.
Sipe will be one of five quarterbacks with the Bulls, including former Duke star Ben Bennett, the NCAA's all-time passing leader before Flutie. The others are Matt Robinson, Buck Belue and Robbie Mahfouz. "Brian is the leading candidate for our quarterback position," Bulls Coach Lindy Infante said.
"I knew there was going to be an awkward situation in New Jersey," Sipe said. "This is a perfect solution to that problem.
"I prepared myself until three hours ago to battle against him."
The Bulls will assume Sipes' $700,000-a-year contract, which has two more years, plus an option year.
Sipe, who was lured away from the Cleveland Browns after last season, was well liked by the Generals. But the trade confirmed speculation that they were not going to let Flutie, who signed a contract Sunday worth $7.5 million over five years, ride the bench.
"Money was a consideration," Seltzer said. "The Generals like to think of themselves as financially realistic. You don't pay that kind of money for a backup quarterback."
The latest development is not likely to make things any easier for Flutie, who was already the subject of some controversy because of his large contract. But he had appeared to have won the Generals over this morning with a little humility and a sizable show of talent.
After a light workout in the morning in which Flutie spent taking turns as the fourth quarterback on the roster, he was moved to No. 2 in the afternoon and took most of the snaps while Sipe watched.
Flutie, who was unavailable for comment, learned of the trade at about 6:30 p.m. in a live interview with WCVM, the ABC affiliate in Boston, when he was asked his reaction. "Are you serious?" he said. "Oh my. I'm shocked. You know, I thought something was up in practice. When Brian's turn would come, they'd say, 'Doug, get in there.' Brian kind of had a look in his eye."
Sipe was unaware of the trade when summoned to a noon press conference to welcome Flutie, and most of the Generals had no idea he had gone as of this evening. Even Coach Walt Michaels was unaware a deal had been completed until he sat down to dinner.
But Michaels said this evening that he agreed with the trade. He also said he would stick to his original intention of holding Flutie out of Saturday's exhibition against Tampa Bay, but the decision is more because Flutie's equipment hasn't arrived than because he isn't ready.
"We've made a decision," Michaels said. "We've signed one quarterback and traded another rather than create a controversy. We have a quarterback we feel is ready to go."
In his press conference earlier in the day, Flutie had brushed aside the question of Michaels' preference, and unknowingly offered insight into the situation.
"I don't pay attention to that," Flutie said. "It's up to Coach Michaels to make the decisions. Sipe is No. 1 and I understand that. He (owner Donald Trump) doesn't intend for me to sit on the bench for my whole career, but he didn't pay Brian that kind of money for him to do it, either."
Reaction to the trade was mixed among the few Generals aware of Sipe's departure. An 11-year veteran, Sipe had been rumored to have lost some of his arm strength after suffering from a sore elbow in his last season with Cleveland, but he completed 192 of 325 passes for 2,540 yards in his one season for the Generals.
Backup quarterback Gene Bradley, who becomes the official starter until Flutie sees his first action in an exhibition game against Orlando Feb. 15, was not surprised.
"It was something we all thought about," he said. "It's one of those situations where you hate to see a friend go. I'm sure they (the Generals) would like to see Doug play. Right now, that's what I assume. There's been a lot of speculation. It didn't make sense that they would put that much money into one position when only one guy can play."
Running back Herschel Walker, who helped Flutie break the ice in the locker room this morning by introducing him to other Generals, described it as a "big shock" and defended Sipe's contribution to last season's 14-4 record.
"I think it's going to be somewhat upsetting to the team," he said. "But I think the guys are mature enough to handle it. People can say what they want about Brian, but we couldn't have won those games without him, no question. A lot of people say Brian's arm is gone, but that's not true. He's a winner."
Any speculation concerning Sipe earlier in the day was overshadowed by the arrival of Flutie.
Flutie had suffered from doubts as to how his reputation as the Seven Million Dollar Boy would go over with the Generals. But he made a good first impression, tucking his playbook under his arm and his multimillion dollar contract in a back drawer.
"I was nervous," he said at the afternoon press conference prior to Sipe's trade. "My biggest concern was not looking like a fool. I didn't want to trip over everybody's feet."
Unsure of his welcome, Flutie had made a quiet, early entrance into the locker room before the morning workout. Ironically, it was Sipe, who made his way across the room and congratulated him on his contract and season with Boston College, who put Flutie most at ease.
"I got some questioning looks when I walked in but Herschel broke the ice and introduced me around," Flutie said. "Brian came over and after two or three minutes everything was at ease. I was worried that it was going to be a problem, but it went well and I'm thankful for that. It could have been a sticky situation, but I got a very good feeling from Brian."