CLEARWATER BEACH — Doug Flutie — who won the 1984 Heisman Trophy, who threw the last-second Hail Mary to beat Miami, who won the CFL’s Grey Cup three times, who was the 1998 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, who spent 21 years playing pro football and is in five hall of fames — said before Saturday’s celebrity flag football game that he was nervous.
Turns out, he was right to be.
Last year, the legendary quarterback led a team of misfit celebrities to victory against former NBA star Tracy McGrady and his crew in the annual Super Bowl week celebrity event.
This year’s 21st Annual Celebrity Flag Football Challenge was billed as a rematch — and for McGrady, a shot at redemption.
“I owe Flutie,” the seven-time NBA All-Star said before the game. “I told him I’ve got to get revenge.”
And he did, defeating Flutie’s team 45-38 on an overcast Saturday afternoon.
It came down — as it often does for Flutie — to the final minute: Team Flutie was within striking distance, but after two incomplete passes from one of the greatest arms in the history of the game, it was over.
“He’s a basketball player, but he can throw a football,” Flutie said of his rival McGrady. “He’s a great athlete.”
The celebrity event features teams of athletes, musicians and reality TV stars who may or may not warrant the title “celebrity,” depending on who you ask.
The more familiar names included Tampa philanthropist and former Gator Thaddeus Bullard aka WWE wrestling star Titus O’Neil, former Buccaneers’ defensive end Simeon Rice from Tampa Bay’s 2003 Super Bowl championship team, and three of the five brothers of current Bucs’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who of course is playing Sunday.
The event is typically open to the public. But this year, in light of the pandemic, organizers closed off the event into a “beach bubble” where, in theory more than reality, masks were required. Only select guests, most of them military or law enforcement, were allowed to cheer from the stands. The athletes took COVID tests, and guests had their temperatures checked at the entrance.
That didn’t stop more than 100 curious onlookers from watching from the barricades, almost all of them mask-less — a stark reminder that, even as public officials and event organizers promise safety first, there is only so much they can control.
Among them was Richard Dorsey, who was in town from Tennessee and one of the few at the barricades wearing a mask. He knows his type 1 Diabetes puts him at a higher risk for the virus, but said he “couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”
One of his friends had his mask around his chin, and the other wasn’t wearing one at all. They stumbled on the game after spotty rain thwarted their jet ski plans and were thrilled to spot McGrady among the players and, like Flutire, were impressed with the basketball star’s throwing skills.
They’ll be rooting for the Bucs on Sunday, and they’re not the only ones. McGrady predicted a 38-35 Tampa Bay victory. Flutie put the score lower because it might rain, but still had Tampa Bay coming out on top, 27-24.
Rice didn’t want to predict the outcome, but he predicts the Bucs will lead in the first half.
“How it plays out,” he said, “nobody knows.”
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