Doug Flutie knew it wasn't a fluke even before he picked up the phone to share the news with his wife. He dialed his offseason home outside Boston, imagining the possibilities such a moment could bring. Laurie Flutie was expecting his call.
No, this isn't about Flutie's 24-yard touchdown run or his leading the Bills to a 17-3 victory over the New York Jets in a nationally televised game on Sunday. Those things are trivial compared to what happened last week, when he turned on his answering machine and heard the word, "Hi" come from the lips of his son, 7-year-old Doug Flutie Jr.
Dougie said it clearly, and he said it twice.
"Twice is pretty good," Flutie said Monday. "I was pretty fired up about it. His awareness is getting better. He says a D-sound for Daddy or an M-sound for Mom. This was more of a word to me, that he said, 'Hi,' so I was pretty fired up."
Dougie suffers from autism, which has left him virtually speechless for the last four years. Flutie has helped raise more than $1 million for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism since he donated $12,500 -- half his signing bonus -- from his first contract with the Bills. The other half went to Hunter's Hope, the charity for Jim Kelly's son.
It should be no surprise that when Flutie was asked last summer whether his ultimate dream would be to win the Super Bowl, he responded by saying his ultimate dream would be to walk in the house and hear Dougie say, "Hi, Dad."
Well, he's halfway there.
"Intent is the whole thing," Flutie said. "He might just be repeating what (Laurie) is saying, but he knows when he gets on the phone that it's me on the other end. Most of the time, he'll sit there and listen and breathe on the phone."
Flutie would be happy just to hear his son breathe, and he knows it's much too soon to believe Dougie made a breakthrough. Similar things have happened with him over the years before he returned to the distant world only he knows.
"There's always hope and you never know," Flutie said. "The sky is the limit (for hope), but expectations aren't real high."
Two years ago, Dougie said, "Open the door" after he was trying to get into the family car while Flutie and his 11-year-old daughter, Alexa, were washing it in the driveway. The Fluties were shocked. That incident happened once and was considered miraculous.
This was something different.
"It's a great sign," he said. "We got excited, and it was a big step for us. It wasn't an isolated incident, but the fact that it was so clear is what got me excited."
Flutie has everyone excited again this season. His passing statistics against the Jets were an unspectacular 15 of 25 for 160 yards and no touchdowns. But he gained an NFL career-high 67 yards on nine carries and scored a touchdown on one of his two 24-yard runs. He also threw a great block on Jets linebacker Mo Lewis to set up another score.
That was the game. Now, back to life.
"We get all carried away because we won a game, and we're all fired up," Flutie said. "Everybody was all ticked off last week because we got beat, you know, (as if) it's the end of the world and the team stinks.
"With Dougie's situation over the last three or four years, it's put football back in perspective for me. I can actually enjoy playing football. I get stressed out over football, too, but nothing like before. I keep things in perspective."
While Flutie was lighting up the Jets, television viewers were lighting up the switchboard at Ralph Wilson Stadium after ESPN aired a segment about the different merchandise being marketed by Flutie for the foundation.
Among them was the new Flutie Beanie Bears, which drew 400 calls for orders between 9:30 p.m. Sunday and 2 a.m. Monday. The Bears are $10. They can be ordered by calling 888-BUFGEAR or through the Internet at www.buffalobills.com.
Flutie saved the message from his son last week on the answering machine and made a tape. Just a suggestion: When people call for orders, perhaps they can hear what made Flutie so excited -- the sound of Dougie's voice saying, "Hi."
Bills coach Wade Phillips said Thurman Thomas was awarded a game ball after Sunday's win because the team dedicated the contest to the injured running back.
Thomas is expected to miss another five weeks after he suffered a bruised kidney in the season opener. He was on the sidelines for the game against the Jets.
"One of our captains was fallen," Phillips said. "I wanted to dedicate it to Thurman because he's such a great leader for us. I asked the team to play the way Thurman thought they could play."
The Bills had no serious injuries to report. Phillips said guard Joe Panos (neck) has seemed to improve but would not be ready to play this week against Philadelphia.