On November 23, 1984, America was treated to one of the greatest games in major college football history. The Boston College Eagles met the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl in a nationally televised Friday game in what was projected, and proven to be, a shootout between BC’s Doug Flutie and Miami’s Bernie Kosar.
Kosar had won the national championship the year before under Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger while utilizing an NFL-style offense with NFL-level talent. Schnellenberger retired following the Orange Bowl, and Jimmy Johnson took over. Five of Johnson’s nine total losses during his five years at Miami would come in 1984. The Hurricanes experienced some growing pains in 1984, especially on defense. In the game previous to the BC game, the Hurricanes would relinquish a 31-0 halftime lead and lose 42-40 to Maryland at the Orange Bowl.
On the other hand, Boston College had overachieved while also possessing an NFL-style offense led by Flutie. BC would finish the year with a 10-2 record, with the only blemishes being a one-point loss to West Virginia and a 7-point loss to Penn State. BC didn’t have much prowess as a football program before Flutie, and would struggle mightily for years following Flutie’s departure.
The game itself was played in a torrential downpour, and would be considered one of the best games of the era even if the final play would have ended with a different result. The two quarterbacks combined for over 900 yards passing and five touchdown passes. Those statistics sound routine today, but teams were still running the Wishbone in the mid-80’s, and college football was still very much a run-first affair.
While leading 41-38 in the fourth quarter, Flutie begged the BC coaching staff to let Miami score to allow the offense to get the final word in, but Miami wouldn’t get the go-ahead points until only 28 seconds were left in the game. That left enough time for four plays to be run, and to get BC, and more importantly, Flutie’s arm, within range of the end zone.
An interesting tidbit which gets missed is that the BC offense came out for the final play from Miami’s 48 yard-line, and off-setting false start and defensive offsides penalties were called, and BC had to restart the play. Before the penalties, Miami had a cornerback lined up on each of the three BC receivers lined up to the right. After the penalties, Gerard Phelan was left uncovered, and ran fifty yards all the way inside the goal line untouched.
Several Miami defenders would be quoted later that they didn’t think Flutie could throw the ball to the end zone, and that would be a reasonable assumption considering the conditions. Phelan snuck behind the crowd of receivers and defenders crowded at the goal line unnoticed while Flutie rolled to his right and launched a missile from his own 37-yard line that landed in Phelan’s arms as if they planned it that way the whole time. BC won 47-45.
Even though similar plays had been successfully used in desperate situations before this, people still refer to ‘Hail Mary plays’ as ‘Flutie Plays’ thirty years later, and never again would someone who had such a long and extensive career be remembered for just one play.