A breakfast renaissance: Flutie Flakes returning after 20 years

David Lucas/AP Photo

Doug Flutie is still amazed by this, his name and likeness on a cereal box still mattering to anyone. Flutie Flakes seemed like a novelty in 1998.

Maybe, he thought, they'd sell a few thousand boxes. Instead, they sold 2.3 million. Now, 20 years later, Flutie Flakes are making a comeback to once again try to raise money for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.

Not that he ever imagined he'd be talking about the cereal two decades after the phenomenon took place.

"I was surprised it did what it did when it did it," Flutie told ESPN on Monday. "Then we came out with a 10th anniversary and those did OK, did fairly well. Then they started talking 20th anniversary and I'm like, 'We're pushing this, aren't we?'"

Flutie's marketing people and agent told him that there was still interest, particularly in the Buffalo area, where Flutie was a Buffalo Bills QB from 1998 to 2000, although Flutie doesn't expect the impact now to be anywhere close to the rage it was then.

Flutie doesn't have a number in his head of boxes to sell -- but it'd be cool if they can sell some, pass them out and then sign them once the cereal is rereleased Sunday at New Era Field, where Flutie is being honored as a Legend of the Game during Buffalo's game against Baltimore. A week later, Flutie Flakes will be sold online and at Wegman's, with portions of the proceeds of the cereal going to Flutie's foundation.

"I haven't been back to Buffalo, really, for anything football-related, in 20 years," Flutie said. "I've gone to Jim Kelly's golf tournament, hung out, done a couple things, but it's really cool to be asked to come back 20 years later."

Twenty years earlier, Flutie had started his foundation after talking with former Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly about creating Hunter's Hope, Kelly's foundation established to support research into childhood nervous system disorders. Flutie, when he got a $25,000 signing bonus with the Bills, put it toward the foundation to help it get off the ground.

Then the idea for the cereal box happened. Maybe they'd sell 20,000 boxes -- like the idea for the charity, stay mostly regional. Instead, it blew up as part of a coincidence of events that turned a small idea into a big-time event and a regional charity into a national one.

By the time the cereal launched, Flutie was Buffalo's starter in the midst of his best NFL season, completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 2,711 yards, 20 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a Pro Bowl appearance and a playoff berth for the Bills as a 36-year-old.

Initially, the cereal was supposed to come out when Flutie was on the bench. A delay led to fortuitous timing and a Flutie Flakes release close to when he became the starter.

"If I had stayed the backup, no way [it gets this big]," Flutie said. "It just happened to time up with me starting to play, me starting to play well and us starting to win, the people in Buffalo getting excited. People were just excited at the time and we came out with the box and it took off.

"That was just a perfect storm coincidence, a fun thing and the fans just jumped on and supported it. It was awesome."

It led to Flutie signing box after box, including in Rochester, New York, where he agreed to sign for two hours. When the time was up, there was still a massive line, so Flutie stayed another hour and pulled every kid out of line to make sure he or she had a signed box before he left.

"It's like a riot," Flutie said. "And this was over in Rochester. That was at the peak of the Flutie Flakes thing and me playing, it was the most ridiculous thing. It was crazy."

In a 12-year NFL career, Flutie completed 54.7% of his pass attempts for 14,715 yards, 86 touchdowns and 68 interceptions while also rushing for 1,634 yards and 10 touchdowns for New England, San Diego, Buffalo and Chicago.

Flutie also played one season in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals and eight in the CFL for British Columbia, Calgary and Toronto, where he won three Grey Cups and was a six-time CFL Most Outstanding Player.

In the years since Flutie Flakes, cereals have popped up for other players, including Mahomes Magic Crunch and Gronk Flakes.

None of the athlete-based cereals, though, received the attention of Flutie Flakes 20 years ago.