FOXBOROUGH -- "It should have been a perfect situation, but never was," Doug Flutie said when he left the Patriots in 1989 after three tumultuous seasons.
Now, five teams (three in Canada) and 16 years later, Flutie is returning home.
The 42-year-old former Natick High and Boston College star signed a one-year deal yesterday to rejoin the Patriots as a backup quarterback to Tom Brady. He spent the previous four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, but was released in March.
"I'm very excited about being back in New England and being home and having an opportunity to join a great football team," Flutie said shortly after inking the deal. "There were at least four other teams that I've talked to over the last few weeks that I could have made a move with, but being home was important to me. My family is here.
"There are 5,000 reasons why I wanted to come to New England, and No. 1 is being able to wake up in my own bed."
As competitive as Flutie is, he understands his assignment. With Brady, who has started 71 consecutive games, entrenched as the starter, Flutie will compete with Rohan Davey, Chris Redman, and rookie Matt Cassel for No. 2 on the depth chart.
Flutie, entering his 21st season as a pro, has more than twice as much professional experience as the Patriots' other backups have combined.
"I'm excited about being in an atmosphere of having a guy that's a definite No. 1 and has proven himself time and again," Flutie said. "Hopefully, I can be a sounding board for him and be there to help him out and be a security blanket for the team.
"I think the role that I'm fulfilling is that of a veteran quarterback. Who's to say? My role could be in the classroom; it may be my biggest contribution. It may not be on the field."
Flutie sat much of the 2004 season as Drew Brees's backup with the Chargers, but started the season finale against Kansas City, completing 13 of 22 passes for 199 yards and touchdown in a 24-17 victory. The elusive Flutie also managed 25 yards rushing on three carries, including a touchdown.
Performances like that give Flutie confidence he can still contribute, despite being the oldest quarterback in the NFL at the end of last season. He's been proclaiming retirement to be just around the corner for nearly a decade.
"I've always said, `Two more years, two more years,' " he said. "And then last season, before the season, I said, `One more year.' And now, for the second time, I've said one more year.
"So I think I'm getting closer, but I have no idea."
Brady was just 10 when Flutie first suited up for the Patriots.
After winning the Heisman Trophy at BC (1984) and spending a year in the United States Football League, Flutie joined the NFL with Chicago.
He lasted a little more than one season there before the Patriots picked him up for an eighth-round draft pick in October 1987. His only action that season came less than a week later in a strike game at Houston.
In 1988, Flutie started nine games, and led the 9-7 Patriots in passing yards and touchdown passes. But he was pulled from the starting lineup late in the season, as New England appeared headed for the playoffs.
Head coach Raymond Berry inserted Tony Eason, who hadn't played in more than a year and was nursing an injured thumb. With Flutie watching from the bench, the Patriots lost at Denver in the last game of the season, and missed the playoffs.
Flutie replaced Eason and started three games the following season, but a loss at Atlanta in Week 6 would be the last of his extended playing time. He threw just two more passes the rest of the season -- both incomplete -- and was off to the Canadian Football League after the season.
At that time, the Patriots had won just four playoff games in the franchise's 30-year history. The team is 9-0 in the postseason in the last four years, with three Super Bowl championships.
"Everything about the franchise is different, from ownership on down to the team," Flutie said. "Obviously, the success that this team has had, you know, it's a different atmosphere.
"I have a very good relationship with Bill Belichick that I've had over the years, just from playing against each other. I feel just from that standpoint the comfort level is way beyond where it was before."
Flutie picked up much of his confidence and experience in the eight-year stint in the CFL, where he was a six-time league most outstanding player and won three Grey Cup championships. He even considered returning to the CFL this year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to play a final season with his brother, Darren.
He visited the New York Giants Thursday and received an intriguing contract offer, but he couldn't turn down the Patriots.
"I enjoy playing football, and football is fun for me, and I never had more fun than when I played in Canada," Doug Flutie said. "I pretty much had a closed mind about what I wanted.
"What I wanted was either to go back to the Patriots or I was heading back to the CFL with my brother to have fun." . . .
Brady is scheduled to appear on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" tomorrow (9 a.m., Channel 5). Brady is slated to discuss steroids and the NFL, congressional involvement in professional sports, and his interest in politics during the "Images and Voices" segment.