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IT'S TIME FOR THE TRUTH ABOUT FLUTIE

So, you're a Doug Flutie fan? It's OK. You're hardly alone in this town. In fact, it has come to my attention that some of you will be rooting for the San Diego Chargers this weekend solely because the cuddly little fellow now wears a different shade of blue. Hey, it's your choice.

But before you change your allegiance for a week, you might want to know a few things about the Flutester. For one, he's a phony. He had half of Western New York, most of Canada and parts of New England snowed into thinking he was such a great guy when the Bills for years were quietly laughing while watching his little act.

Such transparent personalities aren't usually embraced in this town, but this was a charade for the ages. Flutie had two performances working - the one he played for the public and the off-Broadway persona reserved for behind closed doors. We're talking two totally different dudes. You like the one you see. You wouldn't like the one they know.

See, Flutie was a selfish, egotistical, conniving, manipulative, shrewd individualist who did almost anything to make sure he came out looking better than his former teammate, Rob Johnson, in their battle to run the offense.

Did I forget insecure? Yep, Flutie worried that he would never get his opportunity to quiet lifelong skeptics, so he worked behind the scenes against Johnson. The word "backstabber" has been tossed around frequently in Bills' circles to describe Flutie since he left town. Predictably, he was a model for diplomacy when speaking to the media Wednesday.

When Johnson was injured he did everything asked to help Flutie get ready for the next opponent, but it didn't take long for him to realize the favor wouldn't be returned. How sophomoric did Flutie become? Well, even when Johnson played well and the Bills won, Flutie told his teammates he would have done a much better job, that he should have been the quarterback, that he would have avoided more sacks, that the Bills would have won by more had he been given the reins. And once his tiresome tirade was over, he would ask his listeners, "Don't you think?"

What you don't know is that Johnson approached Flutie several times last year, long before the story in Sports Illustrated and the interview with Jim Rome outlined their genuine disdain for each other, and asked him why he was mouthing off behind his back. Johnson was attempting to handle things privately, like a professional. Flutie, of course, denied everything, like an amateur. It didn't matter. Johnson knew the score because his teammates kept telling him.

Johnson's dilemma wasn't about quarterbacking but battery. He debated whether to simply punch out Flutie or keep quiet. Oh, he wanted Flutie in a small room with the lights off for a woodshed special, but he reconsidered because he thought it would have been disruptive - to the Bills. Really, I'm not making this up.

Together, they stewed in silence. And I mean silence.

Last year, when the Bills held their quarterback meetings in preparation for the next opponent, there usually were two people talking and neither was named Doug or Rob. Instead, bench warmer Alex Van Pelt reviewed the game plan with offensive coordinator Joe Pendry. Johnson threw in his two cents every so often. Flutie threw in three cents just to be sure. But they said nothing to each other.

What you don't know is that Flutie loved signing autographs in public but privately complained about the exercise. He was a go-to guy in training camp because he understood the importance of a good first impression. Give him credit, he's an engaging man the first few times you meet him. Grandmas and kids love the guy. People adore the underdog, and he plays the role better than anyone in recent memory. And to him, all those people lining up weren't Bills fans as much as they were Flutie fans. Behind the scenes, say, on a Tuesday with nobody around, Flutie whined about such inconveniences. After awhile, the Bills dreaded asking him to sign. He'll deny it to the day he's dead, but it's the truth.

What you don't know is that Johnson volunteered his services to the Bills' marketing staff. In fact, he has ordered the community relations people to keep quiet about his charities, such as the time he spends in Children's Hospital and his work with Habitat for Humanity, among others. He wanted his off-field work reserved for his private life, away from the cameras and commercials. He wanted to be known in these parts as a quarterback, not a humanitarian.

Flutie was known as a winner, Johnson a fragile outcast. So why has Flutie played for eight professional teams since he threw the Hail Mary? Because Flutie's charm runs only so long before people discover the facade. Teams aren't far behind.

Anyway, when it's all added up, the Bills' defense did more for the team's success than anything Flutie accomplished. He has a better team wrapped around him now, too. We'll see what happens when the Chargers play Oakland, Denver and Seattle the second time around.

You might want to start supporting Johnson because he's not going anywhere for a while. Since the first preseason game, he has played a grand total of three plays behind the starting offensive line. Granted, he's no Steve Young, but he's improving. Fans are giving him less time for success than he's had in the pocket.

And that brings us to Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe, who really didn't have a difficult decision about whether he would retain Flutie or Johnson. Flutie had three offseason meetings with Donahoe and the coaching staff before the Bills made their choice. Flutie, after complaining about the process to others, made sure to say their West Coast offense had better fit his style because he wasn't changing. Flutie told them straight out, "I'm going to play my way." They were floored.

Johnson, on the other hand, asked how he could help the team. West Coast? East Coast? They could have said Gulf Coast, and he would have agreed if it meant helping the Bills win. Johnson, supposedly a California beach bum, even asked his bosses whether they wanted him to stay in Western New York through the winter so he could work on the new attack. They were floored.

And when the interviews were completed, the Bills needed about 11 seconds to realize it wasn't a Flutie-Johnson issue at all. It was Johnson or someone else.

See, what Flutie never understood was that public perception didn't always equate to absolute truth. He apparently didn't realize the Bills would be talking to everyone from the backup center to the maintenance man at The Ralph. He didn't realize how many people he insulted when he was here. It's hardly surprising.

Doug Flutie was always about one thing. Doug Flutie.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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