Famous Flutie Pass Now In Its Own Class

Famous Flutie Pass Now In Its Own Class

Boston College legend Doug Flutie's fabled "Hail Mary Pass" to beat reigning national champion Miami in 1984 was a play for the record books.

At Oberlin College, it's one for the science books.

Eric Goff, a visiting assistant professor of physics at the Ohio liberal arts college, uses footage of the famous Flutie touchdown toss in his Physics of Sports course to illustrate the properties of a ball in flight.

Flutie's throw with no time left on the clock traveled more than half the length of the field and came down amid a mob in the end zone, where it was caught by BC receiver Gerard Phelan. The touchdown gave BC a stunning 47-45 win in a nationally televised game and helped seal the Heisman Trophy for Flutie.

"The Pass" came to be counted among the most exciting plays in college football history. And when you're trying to capture the imagination of a roomful of non-physics majors, Goff said, the Flutie bomb proves a useful aide in teaching projectile motion.

"We note where Flutie was when he released the ball and where Phelan was when he caught it, and use 62 yards as the range of the flight of the ball," said Goff.

"We used a stopwatch to measure the time in flight - about 3.4 seconds - and then tried to determine the launch angle and how fast the ball left his hand. We did a vacuum calculation and came up with about 53 miles per hour - though the ball met some air resistance, so he probably threw it a little faster than that.

"Then we calculated the maximum height of the ball, which was released from a height of around six feet. We found the ball went perhaps 14 yards off the ground."

Other sports videos used in the class to illustrate physics principles include Olympic highlight reels of Jesse Owens winning the 100-meter dash at the 1936 Berlin games, the "Fosbury Flop" that revolutionized the high jump, and Greg Louganis' gold-medal diving. A former schoolboy baseball pitcher, Goff draws on experience to explain how a curveball breaks.

As one who took his doctorate at basketball-crazed Indiana University and describes himself as a "big fan of Bobby Knight," Goff concedes the sporting blood he shares with the average Boston Flutie booster marks him as a relatively exotic breed at Oberlin, whose football team last month finally broke a three-year, 44-game losing streak.

"I think we have one win in nine or 10 years," said Goff. "I would say Oberlin is very progressive politically, and sport is not as exciting to students as going to Washington and protesting."

--Mark Sullivan


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