Fourteen seasons after the Miami miracle of Doug Flutie, maybe 14 miles north of the famous Orange Bowl scene, the micro quarterback threatened a second coming at age 36. As in 1984, his enemy coach was Jimmy Johnson.
Their manes have grayed. Stakes have risen. Instead of Boston College, Flutie was seeking a fourth-quarter pullout on behalf of the Buffalo Bills. Johnson, after winning two Super Bowls for Dallas, is working furiously to rekindle Miami Dolphins glory.
It'd be deja but not quite vu.
Pro Player Stadium vibrated with noise. With 93 seconds to go, the Bills kicked a field goal. Miami's lead shrank 24-17. Buffalo still needed a lightning strike. Flutie had an electric portfolio.
Drama accelerated as Buffalo recovered an onside kickoff at 1:30. Extending the possibility of a game-stealing Flutie flurry. Doug's darts began to move the Bills. Thirty yards to Eric Moulds. Twelve to Kamil Loud. Bills hopes became increasingly realistic.
But then ...
It came to one bruising, defining play. Flutie had just run a QB draw, squirming to Miami's 5-yard line. Seventeen seconds left. On the stadium P.A. system, the theme from Rocky blared.
You wondered if Gerard Phelen might come jogging onto the field in a Bills uniform. He caught the memorable Flutie bomb in 1984, lifting B.C. over the Hurricanes.
No, scripts do change.
Flutie took the ensuing snap and frantically searched for some modern Phelen. Thirteen seconds. Twelve. Eleven. Time dying. Unlike in that college gem so many years ago, Flutie got squashed. Stopped short of heroic.
Trace Armstrong, a Dolphins defensive end from the University of Florida, put a powerful shoulder into blocker Thurman Thomas and bulled to a smothering of the 5-foot-10 quarterback. Instead of making magic, Flutie fumbled. The Dolphins recovered. At :09, there was Miami celebration.
This time, J.J. survives Flutie.
Oh, we romantics. Don't we love it when sports delivers delicious historic symmetry? But the matching of moments, 1984 with this second day of 1999, was lost on Johnson. Asked if, during Sunday's climactic drive, 1984 flickered into his mind, the coach snapped, "No! This is professional football."
Great theater is great theater.
While the Dolphins ready for their next playoff challenge, on the road against the Denver Broncos or the New York Jets, the Bills went home to the long, frigid Buffalo winter.
They will ache, as much emotionally as physically. Buffalo gets no fifth chance to win its first Super Bowl. The Bills will have off-season flashbacks to blown opportunities against the Dolphins.
Flutie passed for 360 yards. Moulds caught nine for an astounding 240 yards. But when Miami needed a killer defensive play, there was heroism that created five turnovers.
Buffalo's catchup chances took a nasty hit just after the two-minute warning. Miami led 24-14. Andre Reed, a 14-year pro, hauled a 9-yard pass to the Dolphins' goal. He wrestled a tackler, seeming to lean a shoulder and the football over the money line. Officials decided Reed was 6 inches short.
Reed bounced to his feet, brushing a zebra as complaining erupted. Buffalo was penalized 15 yards. Instead of a touchdown, the Bills settled for a field goal. Changing the demands of the Bills march still to come. Needing a TD to tie or win.
In a season that hangs heavy with officiating debates, the crew of referee Mike Carey has a smoking past with the Bills. Last season, when Pro Bowl regular Steve Tasker was playing his last game before retiring, he was ejected by this crew. When the 13-year Bills veteran complained, "Hey, don't do that. It's my last game," one of the zebras replied, "Nice career, and goodbye."
Oh, yes, emotions.
After the Dolphins survived Sunday, the floor of their locker room was littered with Flutie Flakes. At some point, as Miami jocks built competitive energies before going onto the field, several boxes of the breakfast cereal were smashed and stomped.
In the end, they would box Doug.