The Hail Flutie, through the eyes of a Boston College offensive lineman
An eerie feeling crept over Boston College offensive lineman Mark MacDonald on Nov. 23, 1984. Standing in a jam-packed Orange Bowl, the senior captain felt confident in his team, but unsure of how the Eagles’ bout with the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes would play out on the slightly-wet field.
“If we did our job and did our job well, Doug Flutie would find a way to win,” MacDonald said. “We just had to give him the opportunity.”
Almost four hours later, MacDonald laid the final block that allowed Flutie, the Eagles' crafty quarterback, the time to engineer one of the greatest last-second Hail Mary passes in college football history.
MacDonald remembers the day as hot and humid, but records from the Miami airport show a day cooler than average. But for 6-foot-5, 267 lineman from West Roxbury, Massachusetts, a 60-degree day in late November must have felt like summer.
"It was kind of very overcast with rain, sleet, you know. Miami fog," MacDonald said. "And I thought to myself, 'Well this is going to be tough. Rough field. Maybe it’ll slow down their great athletes.’”
As much as MacDonald hoped the conditions would contain the Hurricanes, that would not be the case. By game's end, the two teams accounted for 1,273 yards, 15 scoring drives and 92 points.
Boston College started hot with two first-quarter scores, only to see Bernie Kosar and Miami fire back in the second quarter to draw within one score. Immediately following halftime, the Hurricanes tied the game at 28, and it became clear to MacDonald -- and the rest of the football world watching -- how this game would end.
“Whoever has the ball last is going to win,” MacDonald said.
And late in the fourth quarter, Miami looked to be that team. Boston College retook the lead with 3:50 to play on an 82-yard drive, but the Hurricanes were driving and eating away at the clock.
Watching from the sidelines, MacDonald remembers hearing Flutie offer an intriguing idea to BC head coach Jack Bicknell: “Maybe we should just let them score…”
Now, MacDonald knew Bicknell would never do that, but he did hope Miami would score sooner rather than later.
“The quicker they score, the better chance we have,” he thought to himself. “They’re obviously going to pull ahead and I don’t think we can stop them.”
One minute and thirty seconds. That amount of time, MacDonald thought, would be enough for Flutie and the Eagles to win. Anything less…
The Final Drive
Miami scored for the final time with 28 ticks left on the clock, leaving the Eagles with little time to mount a comeback.
“Boy, how’s he going to pull this off?” MacDonald thought as the Eagles trotted onto the field.
Starting at their own 20, Flutie completed one pass for 19 yards and another for 13 to push the Eagles into Hurricane territory. With each pass, MacDonald’s confidence rose. And with six seconds left on the clock, the Eagles were down to one last play.
Apprehension. Uncertainty. Doubt. MacDonald felt it all. But one feeling remained: hope.
“We had the best football player I’ve ever seen in the huddle with us,” MacDonald said. “I had my doubts, but at the same time I felt like if anybody could pull this one off, it’ll be him.”
In the huddle, Flutie called the now-famous “Flood Tip” play, where the receivers ran straight routes into end zone where they would attempt to either catch the ball or tip it to another receiver. The Eagles broke the huddle and took their places for what would be the final play of the game.
MacDonald lined up with his fellow lineman Mark Bardwell, Jack Bicknell, Steve Trapilo and Shawn Regent against Miami’s Jerome Brown, Willie Lee Broughton and Dallas Cameron.
When Flutie received the snapped ball, all hell broke lose.
Miami’s Brown came barreling through as Flutie dropped back almost ten yards, leaving MacDonald the last line of defense between a certain sack and a chance at a win.
MacDonald felt Flutie would be either directly behind him or to MacDonald’s left, so he directed his block to shield his quarterback. But in true Flutie fashion, he improvised, and rolled out to the right instead. MacDonald, thrown off by Flutie’s change in direction, gave Brown a little shove and the defender slipped in front of Flutie. MacDonald leaped over the defender and try to get in between Brown and Flutie, but before he could throw his final block, Flutie released the pass.
“Phew,” MacDonald thought, watching as the ball sailed through the air.
MacDonald knew Flutie had the arm to make throw the ball over 50 yards, but the Miami defenders didn’t. A cluster of Hurricanes sat in front of the end zone, waiting to swat down the pass and end the game, but the ball flew over everyone’s head and into the arms of BC’s Gerald Phelan.
Euphoria broke out all across the country. From the players on the field to the fans in the stadium to the millions watching on TV.
For MacDonald, all he felt was relief.
“Woah, he really did pull it off,” he thought to himself.
“Some of us were in kind of disbelief,” MacDonald said, “but I believed in him. He was a guy that good things were going to happen to.”
The play was typical Flutie, as he extended the play by moving around the pocket and giving himself more time and more opportunities to attempt a long pass. And the offensive line in front of him was built to cater to his style.
“Doug Flutie felt more comfortable throwing through throwing lanes rather than throwing over somebody’s head,” MacDonald said. “So obviously, we had to be aware of that. We would have to play with him a long time to get a feeling of where he was and what he was going to do. Sometimes you just didn’t know.
“It happened so fast, I can’t recall all the details,” MacDonald said, looking back on the play that effectively defined Flutie’s collegiate career. “A lot’s happened to me since then, but I often look back at that and the lesson I learned is: It’s not over till it’s over -- which is an old cliche -- and never stop believing.”
That play -- which became known as the "Hail Flutie" -- wasn't the last the world saw of Flutie, MacDonald or Miami's Brown.
Flutie went on to win the 1984 Heisman Trophy, have an illustrious career in the Canadian Football League and a seven-year stint in the NFL. MacDonald played five years in the NFL and is now a doctor in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Brown played side-by-side with Philadelphia Eagles legend Reggie White for five years, where he was selected to two Pro Bowls. Brown tragically died in a car accident in 1992, but was inducted in the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1996.
Thirty-one years have passed since that famous play, and every now and then MacDonald is reminded of the scale of the game. People come up and ask him if he played with Flutie and if he was a part of “that play.”
“It was an honor to be a part of that play,” he said. “Most people, when they get to experience things like that, great plays like that, it helps them with everything they do in life because they believe anything is possible.”