Unlike his career at Boston College or his $7 million pro contract, Doug Flutie's 11 games as quarterback of the New Jersey Generals have been unsensational statistically.
He is the 10th-rated quarterback in the 14-team league. And the Heisman Trophy winner with the penchant for the unpredictable, who joined the U.S. Football League in a storm of news conferences, admittedly has been inconsistent.
"I'm not completely satisfied yet," he said. "I've had a shaky start. I think it took me a while to get adjusted."
He has completed 109 of 224 passes for 1,673 yards, a 48.7 completion percentage. While the numbers are not bad, they are not those expected of the dashing quarterback who was to bring new life to a league. But his impact on USFL attendance has been widely felt, and the Generals, who will play the Stars today at the Meadowlands (2:30 p.m.), are 7-4 and contending for the playoffs. Despite his modest statistics, his playmaking ability has been a key to the Generals' success.
Whether he has lived up the extraordinary expectations of him, depends on whom he is compared to. Few rookies start, much less set records. In fact, the only rookie quarterback to lead a team to an NFL championship was Sammy Baugh of the 1937 Redskins.
Some USFL observers say Flutie is just getting started after his long contract negotiations, missing most of training camp, and adjusting to the constant publicity.
"I think he is just now getting comfortable," said New England Patriots personnel director Dick Steinberg, a long-time Flutie watcher. "He's been under a lot of pressure. John Elway went through a learning process his rookie year (with NFL's Denver Broncos) and then was a lot more confident this season. Their progress has been similar. Most guys who are handed the job right away struggle early. I'd say it's a textbook case of the progress of a rookie quarterback."
One statistic does stand out. Flutie has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, a rarity for a rookie. They tend to throw more interceptions than scoring passes.
"I don't know if anybody does as well as they are expected to after winning a Heisman," said Gil Brandt, personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys. "Historically, rookie quarterbacks throw more interceptions and don't have the completion percentage. But the team has performed well with him at quarterback, and that's what counts. They have been in or near first place all season, and he's been instrumental in that.
"Terry Bradshaw and a lot of other players didn't set the world on fire either. Most of them don't throw as many touchdowns as they do interceptions. So from past history, I'd say he's doing better than most."
Defensive back Jonathan Sutton of the Stars said Flutie has improved since Baltimore beat the Generals, 29-9, March 17 at College Park.
"Sometimes the stats don't tell the story," Sutton said. "He's still scrambling, still getting outside. On the field they're winning, so he's getting it done. If I were his coach, I wouldn't be complaining.
"He hasn't thrown that many interceptions. He's not forcing it like he was earlier . . . The big thing is, he's got a strong arm. When he gets scrambling back there, he picks up the receivers well downfield. He doesn't telegraph his passes."
One consensus is that Flutie has overcome setbacks that most rookie quarterbacks don't face. He did not take a break between the end of his senior season at Boston College and his brief training camp with the Generals. He was charged with saving the league, and the expectations for him were exceedingly high, even for a Heisman Trophy winner.
"I think his performance is incredible since he never had a rest period," said Don Klosterman, president and general manager of the Los Angeles Express. "He didn't have a full training camp. I think he's just beginning to feel comfortable with the team."
One thing is certain: Flutie is a marketing success. The Generals' attendance averages 42,144, well above the league's 26,104. Last year the Generals averaged 37,716.
Flutie's growing pains have been obvious in 16 sacks, the 11 interceptions, and the gradual refocus on Herschel Walker as the team star. Walker has rushed more than 100 yards in each of his last eight games, and a 2,000-yard season is probable. Meanwhile, Flutie has been passing less and less, averaging about 20 a game.
Flutie might well be responsible for freeing Walker. And with Walker's development, some of the pressure has been taken off Flutie. Defenses concentrate more on stopping the running back, giving Flutie the improvisational freedom he thrives on.
"Doug is a big threat," Walker said. "They can't overload me. Any team that wants to stop me can. But they'll have to give up the passing attack."
Flutie perhaps has faced more defenses of greater variety and confusion than any other quarterback in the league. In an effort to stop both the run and the pass, teams have used eight-man fronts, and sometimes nine.
"He's learned a great deal in a short time," Walker said. "People have thrown every different thing in the world at him. After that, there's no doubt he can play professional football. He's been the key to our success."
Flutie is obviously relieved by Walker's resurgence. Without a strong running game, Flutie was chased mercilessly on his rollouts earlier in the season. Some teams were starting to catch up with him on the outside of his sprintout.
"My original concern was what teams were going to do to try to stop me," he said. "Teams made a lot of changes to contain me. Then our running game started to work so well. Teams have had to switch to Herschel and they're practically daring me to throw. It's becoming more of a half-and-half thing now.
"It's made it a lot easier on me. It's always easier to throw the ball when the run is working. Herschel is the man right now. People want to talk to him, and that's fine with me. It means I get out of the locker room a lot earlier," Flutie said.
"We want to bring him along and get him more familiar with everything," the Generals' coach, Walt Michaels, said. "There aren't too many rookie quarterbacks who start, let alone with just two weeks of training camp. We've only scratched the surface. We think he has a long way to go." CAPTION: Picture, Doug Flutie of New Jersey Generals, prvong that even $7 million men are always perfect. By Gary A. Cameron -- The Washington Post