For much of his life, Doug Flutie has been in the football spotlight.
Be it winning the Heisman Trophy, six CFL top player awards, three Grey Cup MVPs or playing 12 seasons in the NFL, accolades and success have followed the 57-year-old former quarterback. But it's often been the unspoken word and simplest of tasks at home that have provided Flutie with many memorable life moments and a healthy dose of perspective.
In 1998, Flutie and his wife, Laurie, created The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, named after their son who was diagnosed with autism at age three. The elder Flutie estimates his son's foundation has raised nearly $25 million since its inception to help those affected by autism.
"The way we've always viewed this is we were given Dougie for a reason," Flutie said during a telephone interview. "The foundation is his legacy, he's helping hundreds of thousands of children develop.
"We focus primarily on programs and some type of relief for the family to take some of the pressure off whether it's financially or otherwise. Dougie has done all this . . . it's pretty amazing."
Doug Flutie Jr. is 28 and is dependant upon his parents. He remains non-verbal, but Flutie said his son possesses an infectious smile.
"He'll never be independent but he's healthy, he's got a smile on his face a mile wide," Flutie said. "He doesn't have a care in the world, he's happy.
"His awareness level continues to improve all the time. He's a lot easier to take care of around the house than he used to be. He's doing great."
Autism support for adults remains an issue. Autism Speaks Canada, a charity, says an estimated 50,000 Canadian teens with autism become adults and lose school-based services annually.
The charity says about one in 66 children in Canada has autism.
Flutie played 21 seasons of pro football, including eight in Canada with the B.C. Lions (1990-91), Calgary Stampeders (1992-95) and Toronto Argonauts (1996-97). In 2008, he was enshrined into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Flutie, currently a colour commentator for Notre Dame Football on NBC, credits his son for broadening his horizons and teaching him there's more to life than just football.
"When you're young, you're trying to keep your head above water and be successful and make a team," he said. "At some point, you become secure with your job and the blinders come off and you see outside of your little bubble and circle and the big picture comes into view.
"That's what Dougie has done for me."
And Doug Jr. has continually shown he's capable of surpassing expectations. Like when Flutie took his son to a water camp in Canton, Mass., when he was around 12 years old.
"I figured we'd be there 15 minutes," Flutie said. "The guy who ran it was named Ross Lilly, a high-energy guy who came over and was like, 'Dougie, how you doing? We're going to go wind surfing.'
"I'm thinking Dougie's going to end up in the water and this is not going to be good but in less than a minute Ross had him on a windsurf with an aid and was taking him across the lake and Dougie had a smile a mile wide."
And Flutie said Lilly's efforts weren't isolated.
"It (starting foundation) has just opened up a whole different world," Flutie said. "It's all the people out there who are so caring and so giving and do it voluntarily.
"I'd never seen those kinds of people in my life. It's been enlightening, just the people you run into and the people you work with. It's amazing."
And it's those individuals who've also helped Flutie change his perspective.
"The other thing on that perspective is as a parent not selling your child short of what they're capable of doing," he said.
And, predictably, Flutie Jr. offered yet another example of that, this time when in his early teens.
"They showed us video of Dougie at school and told us they were getting him to ride a adapted tricycle," Flutie said. "I'd tried to get him to do it at home and he'd do three of four pedals and would stop.
"And then I see a video of him at school and they have cones around the gym and he's following the course. He's pedalling, he's going around the cones and it's like, 'Who the heck is this kid?'"
Even when Flutie's football life was a challenge, he could rely upon his son to lighten things up.
"When I come home and Dougie is so happy to see me and looks at me with his trademark huge smile and happy, positive attitude . . . it makes me feel so much better," Flutie said. "His smile lights up a room and he has made my life so happy."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press