Doug Flutie isn’t the least bit surprised to see star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees still going strong.
Brady, 42, signed a two-year, US$50-million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after winning six Super Bowls over 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. The 41-year-old Brees reached a similar contract with the New Orleans Saints, his home for 14 of his 19 NFL campaigns.
Flutie, 57, played quarterback for 21 pro seasons before retiring in ‘06 at age 43. The former Heisman Trophy winner spent eight seasons in Canada, winning three Grey Cups and six league MVP awards.
But during his 12-year NFL tenure Flutie played with both Brees (2001-04 with San Diego) and Brady (2005 with New England).
“I think at the quarterback position, you can do that because as time goes on it becomes more about your head, being smart and decision-making,” Flutie said during a telephone interview. “That’s why I think a guy like Brady, who it’s all about smarts and his arm, could play as long as he wants to.
“I can still throw the ball 55 yards and I could never throw it over 65 yards. So what I’m saying is as long as they have their arm, especially when you’re spreading people out, these guys can play for a long time.”
The six-foot, 209-pound Brees began his NFL career in ‘01 with San Diego and it didn’t take Flutie long to realize the youngster’s star potential.
“Drew is definitely a true leader,” Flutie said. “He’s a guy who, when he took over as the starter, began having offensive linemen over at his house one night a week.
“He’d do all those little things a leader does to get everyone motivated and on the same page.”
And Brees did more than just talk the talk.
“He was one of the first guys I was around who went and got his blood tested and found out what his system handled well and not so well to be at optimal health,” Flutie said. “He went as a rookie (being) one of the guys who could fall asleep in a meeting and then all of a sudden in the second year whatever nutrition he was on, he just was sharp as a tack all the time.
“He always had the smarts and work ethic. I wish I’d figured that part of it out early on in my career because you have good and bad days. It was like all of a sudden Drew was on all the time.”
Brees joined the Saints as a free agent in 2006 and led the franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl victory, a 31-17 decision over the Indianapolis Colts, on Feb. 7, 2010. But to Flutie, the 13-time Pro Bowler is the ultimate competitor.
“We’d compete in every little thing we did,” he said. “We’d drop kick, we’d throw the ball at the crossbar or make up some kicking game.
“The question mark, especially back then, was size-wise he was barely six foot, if six foot, and everybody saw that as a question mark. Obviously, I never considered that, but because he got to New Orleans and a system where they spread people out, that became even less of a factor.”
Much like how the five-foot-10, 181-pound Flutie was able to effectively erase questions about his height playing three-down football on the longer, wider Canadian field.
“It’s more about being accurate with the football than having a cannon of an arm,” Flutie said. “Not that Drew didn’t, because he has a very strong arm, but it’s all about being smart, taking a quick read and the ball is out.”
Flutie said Brady is also driven to constantly prove doubters wrong. New England selected Brady in the sixth round, No. 199 overall, in the 2000 NFL draft.
“Tom thrives on having something to prove,” Flutie said. “He still feels like he’s proving himself and it’s really because of where he was drafted and all that.
“You need something like that which motivates you on a daily basis. To Tom, it’s the fact that they didn’t think he was a top draft choice, they didn’t think he was going to do what he’s doing.”
Now that Brady is with Tampa Bay, Flutie said he’ll be motivated to prove he can also succeed there.
“I don’t know if it’s a chip anymore, but it’s more another reason to be driven,” Flutie said. “It’s going to be real strange (seeing Brady in Buccaneers uniform).
“I’ve texted Tom back and forth a few times and it seems like he’s really excited. It’s like a new challenge for him, it’s like rekindling the fire. Not that he’s ever had an issue with being competitive and having that fire.”
Although they spent just one season together, it was more than enough time for Flutie to see what made Brady tick.
“He was already Tom Brady,” Flutie said. “But he was still meticulous about trying to get better every day.
“One thing that stood out to me was Tom always felt the more straight over the top he was with his delivery the more accurate he was with the ball. So when you watch him warm up . . . he’s very deliberate in tucking in his left elbow and bringing his right arm straight over the top and does it very deliberately to reinforce it to him.”
And the three-time NFL MVP isn’t above studying others.
“When I got there, for my size I had a very strong arm and Tom marvelled at it,” Flutie said. “One day, I caught him watching film of me trying to figure out like, ‘What the hell is Doug doing?’ Basically he was saying, ‘How can I get two more miles an hour on my fastball.’ I never taught Tom anything, it’s just that he’d do that type of stuff.”