There's probably never been a tougher football act to follow than Doug Flutie's. Put another way, it's like taking Chuck Yeager's place in a cockpit, Lee Iacocca's in a board room, or Bruce Springsteen's on stage.
Flutie, after all, was not just at All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, but a practically larger-than-life hero by the time he played his final game for Boston College last January.
Somebody had to fill his shoes, though, and that somebody is Shawn Halloran, a 6 ft. 4 in. dropback passer from Westminster, Mass., who waited patiently in the wings only to earn what many perceive as this season's most unenviable assignment.
Halloran, however, is pleased to have the opportunity. ``I've been having a great time,'' he said upon returning to his room after a late, post-practice dinner. ``Just being out there in a competitive situation is fun. I've waited a long time to play and sometimes you don't realize what you're contributing.''
Even though Halloran, Flutie's backup the last two years, may have been the prime target of a cascade of boos during B.C.'s recent loss to Maryland, he has remained unflustered.
``He's really handled the situation well and retained his equanimity,'' said Sam Timer, the team's quarterback coach.
Halloran's poise was clearly evident last Saturday, when he helped even the team's record at 2-2 by completing 25 of 33 passes for 400 yards in a seat-clutching 29-22 road victory over Pittsburgh. The coup de gr^ace was his second touchdown pass of the day, a clutch play right out of Flutie's magic bag.
Trailing by a point with a little over a minute left, Boston College faked a running play on fourth-and-one at midfield. As fullback Ken Bell dove high into a mass of humanity at the line of scrimmage, Halloran dropped back and threaded the ball to Kelvin Martin, who jetted into the end zone.
Timer says most games boil down to four or five big plays, and this was the kind of positive reinforcement that Halloran needed after some early trials.
``My confidence is growing with each game,'' Shawn observed. ``It takes time to get to know your teammates under game conditions. Practice is different because it's so repetitive. You may run the same play three or four times in the row until you get it right. But in a game you're running something different each down.''
Halloran's performance won't make people forget Flutie, B.C.'s little big man, but it should stem the tide of Flutie nostalgia that is sure to crop up Saturday, when the Eagles host the Miami Hurricanes at Sullivan Stadium. It was against Miami last season that Doug launched the now-famous ``miracle'' touchdown pass that lifted Flutiemania to new heights and assured the team of a Cotton Bowl appearance.
This year's game will showcase the Battle of the Successors, with Halloran matching completions with Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar's replacement at Miami.
One person definitely in Shawn's corner is Flutie, who has completed his rookie season with the USFL's New Jersey Generals and is now working on ABC's college football scoreboard show. The two enjoyed a good relationship as teammates, and still keep in touch.
Doug has returned to the Heights to complete his degree, but has kept from getting too involved with his old team, realizing it wants to prove there's life after Flutie.
Halloran, a senior academically but only a junior eligibility-wise, knows his is a critical role in keeping the school on its upward football course. He'd like to lead the team to its fourth straight bowl appearance, an accomplishment that would pave the way for his return in '86.