Coffee & Cigarette Break

Have A Laugh While The Boss Isn't Looking 


Some might think the key to Doug Flutie’s success on the football field was his superior vision, impeccable timing, or other well-honed skills. Only I know the truth: the source of his excellence is the lucky charm he took from me over twenty years ago. I don’t think the initial theft was premeditated, and once the power was unleashed, I can’t blame him for not giving it back.

It happened at Boston College in the summer of 1983 — no Flutie heroics had yet been performed on the national stage; no last-second "Hail Mary" pass to beat Miami in the Orange Bowl before a national television audience; no Heisman Trophy, no catapult into the all-time lore of college football.

I was at home in New Jersey working a summer factory job filling nail polish bottles by hand. Hanging from one of the fire sprinklers of my dorm room throughout the 1982-83 school year was my lucky charm: a "W.C. Frito" pencil topper eraser. Three inches long, green and bearing a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields, the eraser had my life on a serious upswing. Vastly superior to the Frito Bandito eraser that was part of the same marketing scheme, WC Frito had been solely responsible for making my sophomore year the best ever for me. It cleared my head of the acetone fumes that had soaked in at the factory the summer before to the point where understanding Hegel’s dialectic became as second nature to me as solving Rubik’s Cube (if you consider slamming the torture toy up against the wall until it shattered a "solution").

When I left school that June, I made the biggest mistake of life and left WC behind. All summer I was paranoid that someone would abscond with my lucky charm. But, not too worry; no one was allowed in the dorms during the summer. My plan was to simply get back to BC before classes started and retrieve my future.

Turned out, the football team got back to school in August for summer practice. Turned out, Mr. Flutie had moved into the dorm room I had occupied the year before. Turned out, Mr. Flutie was in my old bedroom when I arrived but Mr. Frito was not. (This is the part of the story where my psycho-therapist tells me to calm down and visualize that Mr. Frito is actually helping an abandoned child who is really in need).

I was surprised to find the door to my old dorm room ajar when I arrived on campus 3 days before the beginning of the school year. A Hall and Oates song floated from the room like a pleasant smell; that made me realize I hadn’t seen my "Private Eyes" album in some time but I won’t even go there.

Seizing the moment, I walked in but was quickly met in the front hallway by Doug. I calmly explained that I had lived in the room the year before and had forgotten something in the bedroom. I was mildly surprised when he immediately answered that there was nothing in there. I further explained that it was silly but it was a small good luck charm that he wouldn’t have even noticed hanging from the ceiling. I must admit, I felt a connection with him at that moment, especially given that we both were sporting attractive MacGyver-style mullets.

I was able to get past him — neither his offensive line nor his blocking fullback were home at the time — and made it to the bedroom. WC was gone. I took Doug at his word that he "hadn’t seen it," and then scurried around campus asking if anyone had seen a janitor whose luck had recently changed. Given his performance that day, years later I wondered why Doug had never crossed over into acting like Howie Long or The Boz.

Everyone I tell this story to thinks I’m crazy, and they mistakenly lump it in with some other theories of mine that, I admit, I have not been able to completely substantiate (such as that Giant Pandas are actually Chinese men dressed in Panda suits — a goodwill marketing promotion orchestrated by the Communists. Sure, they’re awful on human rights, but they can’t be all bad because they have those cute Pandas; or that Harry Connick Jr. shows up at my hotel every time I go on vacation; or that being able to throw your voice is ultimately the key to being successful in business).

My lone supporter from my Boston College days called me excitedly one afternoon and relayed the following: He was watching Doug manufacture a 4th Quarter come-from-behind victory for the Buffalo Bills and noticed how the other players gathered closely around him in the huddle. The announcer stated the reason was that Doug needed to keep his hands warm in order to keep his passes crisp. As the camera zoomed in, my friend said he caught a glimpse of Doug rubbing the WC Frito prior to the crucial third down play. What starts as a trickle can become a river.

I know many of you think I am a loser, or a pathetic whiner or both. But, I am neither a sloth nor a slacker; in fact, I have expended great energy over the years trying to replace WC instead of just sitting around and sulking. My first attempt was the plastic mannequin leg I smuggled out of the nail polish factory late one Friday night while my co-workers drove-off in rusted Oldsmobiles to blow their entire paychecks in Atlantic City. Though I had some jovial times with The Leg (it was a family favorite), it never brought me the luck that WC Frito did. Eventually, I got sick of the incessant comparisons to the "Leg Lamp" that tormented the wife and embarrassed Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" (the only movie, by the way, to have appeared on TBS more times than the ferret action-packed classic, "The Beastmaster"), and tossed the Leg in a nearby dumpster. (Even the addition of a rubber, beautician’s practice mannequin head and top hat to the top of the Leg to give it more of that magical "eraser-effect" didn’t help).

My second attempt at replacing WC was a faithful, talking stuffed bear named "Rudy," who had accompanied me and several friends on a road trip from California to Chicago, via Las Vegas. Rudy brought me good luck at the roulette wheel, although he could be a little foul-mouthed at times (which nearly resulted in me getting my ass kicked at a North Platte, Nebraska Best Western). Yes, this was before the football movie of the same name was released glorifying a diminutive football overachiever named "Rudy Ruettiger." Rudy the Bear was promptly retired after I had to tell the 50th person that no, he was not named after Rudy "the football player from that movie" (although, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which is essentially a testament to how spite alone can motivate a person to accomplish great things; if you rent it, fast forward to the scene where one of my favorite actors, Charles S. Dutton, ridicules Rudy with a tirade that includes, "You’re 5 foot nothing; a hundred and nothing; and not a speck of athletic ability." Mr. Dutton’s character, the cynical, self-righteous grounds crew member whose misguided pride cut short his own Heisman Trophy-worthy career, eventually is won over by the sheer power of Rudy’s obsessive behavior).

I realize that the WC Frito Eraser isn’t the greatest luck charm in the world, but they just aren’t that easy to come by (see, among others, the Holy Grail, unicorns or wedding day brides, and I Dream of Jeannie bottles). I don’t begrudge Doug all his success, and I know life still has many challenges for him. However, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out; not that I could’ve beaten Miami, won the Heisman, or led a team to 3 Grey Cup Championships, but maybe I would have enjoyed more athletic success than the 5-4 record I have amassed over the years in pickup wrestling matches (I carry my singlet and headgear with me at all times). At the very least, maybe I wouldn’t have had to hear a poet-friend of mine who doesn’t follow football interrupt my telling of this story to excitedly say, "Wait. You mean the guy who did that awesome drop-kick?!"

Doug, if you happen to read this, I won’t say another word if one day WC Frito shows up at my door, tenderly protected in bubble-wrap, in an envelope bearing no return address.