Being Tall is Overrated

This is for JB.

It was 15 years ago that the Buffalo Bills, my team, hit their misery tipping point. We had a great team in 1999, headed for the playoffs with a better than average chance for us to FINALLY win the Super Bowl. For the first 15 games of the season, they were led by 5’8 quarterback Doug Flutie, a man who always played great and won at every level he played at. Despite all of his accomplishments, he was always ridiculed by pundits for not being tall enough. He was a man who did not look like what a quarterback was supposed to look like according to the journalists who wrote about the game, and the people who paid money to watch it, including myself.

In a meaningless final game, the Bills sat Doug Flute so he could “rest for the playoffs”. Rob Johnson was given the start. The 6’5 backup who looked exactly like what you think a quarterback should look like: handsome face, good hair, rocket arm, and the tangibles that scouts look for when finding their team’s franchise player. Johnson was supposed to be the team’s first string leader when the team formed this roster, but he got hurt in 1998, and when Flutie was inserted, he played so well it was impossible to replace him even after Johnson’s injuries healed.

So in went Johnson in the first game the Bills would play in the 21st century, a day after New Year’s. And play well he did. He had a spectacular game putting up amazing stat lines that any quarterback in the world would give anything to accomplish. What the stats don’t tell us is this was really a smoke and mirrors performance because the defense he was playing against, the Indianapolis Colts, played poorly on purpose. It was also a meaningless game for them as their own playoff spot was already determined, so they rested all of their best players. But they did something else too – they didn’t actually play any defense! The Colts assumed that in order for them to advance in the playoffs they would eventually have to face this Bills team again, so they decided not to show them any of their defensive tendencies. They played badly on purpose in order to make sure that the Bills had zero game film of them. Any professional quarterback would have played great under these circumstances!!!

And of course emotion can get the best out of us. After the game, the fans lined up to talk about Johnson’s performance on the talk show circuit and how he was the guy to take us to the promised land of the Super Bowl. The next day in the Buffalo newspaper there was a poll saying that 75% of fans preferred Johnson over Flutie to start next week’s playoff game. The local and national media also jumped on the bandwagon writing countless articles that Johnson was the better quarterback.

In hindsight this was ridiculous, but even I jumped on that stupid wagon and thought Flutie should be replaced. My friend WB was so angry at me for wanting Johnson in that we almost came to blows. This is how serious the Western New York/Niagara Region is about the Buffalo Bills, especially because of what we all went through with this team in the 1990s. Not only did we lose 4 straight heartbreaking Super Bowls, which is something so painful to go through I tear up even writing about it, but we also lost our hero, former Buffalo Bills great O.J. Simpson, to a stunning reality that he murdered two people in cold blood. To sum this up emotionally, that is like falling in love four times with 4 different people only to have them all dump you when you’re about to propose. Then to top it off realizing your father is really a murderer. Heartbreaking!

So by the end of the decade we were an emotional bunch. And the amazing thing is the worst hadn’t even happened yet.

Johnson did indeed replace Flutie in the playoff game against the Tennessee Titans because the owner, Ralph Wilson, ordered the coach to do it. He was paying Rob Johnson starting salary money and he wanted a return on his investment. Plus, the fans wanted Johnson over Flutie too and football is still in the entertainment business and you give the people what they want.

All I have to say it that if Doug Flutie was 6’2, this wouldn’t have happened. We live in a nation that’s prejudice against short men and this is case study #1 in understanding this dilemma!

What happened? Watch the Music City Miracle:

That’s what happened. One of the most bizarre, fluky, crazy plays in sports history. And do you know why it happened? Because karma. Doug Flutie is in that game and the Bills go to the Super Bowl. I know it in my heart and soul.

It’s the first week of the new century: January 8 2000. I just moved to Toronto from the Niagara Region. I am alone, a bit scared, and kind of feeing optimistic about my new city and life. I watch the Music City Miracle game all by myself and I miss my dad and friends who I usually watched the games with. I am in a tiny apartment and it’s freezing because I don’t know how to work the old school thermostat. So I am bundled up in a blanket watching my Bills pull off an amazing victory. Rob Johnson plays poorly, but our defense pulls its weight and we have won 16-15. I go to the kitchen to make dinner and I’m singing to myself in my just made up Bills victory dance:

Hail to my teammmmm. The Buffalo Billss….
Rob Johnson did it. He’s our qbbbb..
We won this gammme… I am so happy!

But there’s still 16 seconds left. Pointless because all the Bills needs to do is kick the ball on the ground on the kickoff and make a tackle. Game over. For some reason the kicker Steve Christie kicks it in the air so the Titans can set up their kickoff blocking. No….No….NOOOOOO! Tackle him. NOOOOOOOOO!

15 years and the Bills have still not made the playoffs. Only until every single living Buffalo Bills fan admits that Doug Flutie was supposed to be in that game can we break our curse. Only until we all admit that we are prejudice over shorter people are we able to go back to the playoffs.

At the beginning I said this post was for JB. JB is a family relative. Nicest guy you ever can meet. Great father. Loves his family and values the concept of family in general. He’s well educated and has made great strides in his chosen professional field. Can’t say a bad thing about the guy. He just happens to be shorter than the rest of our family and for that he gets ribbed about it. Ribbed a bit too much if you ask me. He’s too nice of a guy to play the fight back game. He can call people bad names….but he’s a better person than me and the rest of us. He just takes it in and doesn’t say a word.

This week he talked about how he wanted his son to be tall. And I told him that being tall is over rated. JB if your son grows up to be the same height as you or shorter but with all the character traits that you possess, then the world will be a better place. Who cares how tall you are: life is all about character.

I was wrong about Doug Flutie. Flutie has all the character in the world. Just watch his Football Life Special on the NFL network. This is a man who heard all the short jokes from the moment he started high school all the way to the end of his 20 year professional career. A man who has raised millions for the fight against Autism in his Doug Flutie charity organization. Who just gets it! And we benched him for a guy who looked how we wanted our leader to look like, but doesn’t have even 1% of the character that Flutie has or ever will.

I was prejudice about shorter people. I am now a better man for admitting that.

So hopefully the football gods are listening and they can now let the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs. Are you listening football gods? I’m sorry.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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