No happily ever after in Flowers’ homecoming

Quinton Flowers warms up before the Tampa Bay Vipers’ home opener at Raymond James

It was shaping up like a classic Disney movie.

The natives were restless, and the only thing that would satisfy them was a change under center.

When the Tampa Bay Vipers’ had to settle for a field goal on their first drive in the XFL team’s home opener Saturday against the Houston Roughnecks at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the chants were almost as unanimous as they were expected: “We want Flowers.”

They were referring, of course, to former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.

The desire for Flowers wasn’t anything new. Fans had been calling for him to receive more playing time — Flowers only saw limited action Weeks 1 and 2 — via social media since the team’s debut Feb. 9.

When the Vipers’ next drive stalled near midfield, boos echoed throughout the stadium. The crowd wanted to see Flowers in action at Ray Jay for the first time since Nov. 16, 2017, when USF defeated Tulsa on his Senior Day.

Adding to the drama were the 9,600 square-foot video boards at the north and south ends of the stadium. During one timeout, they showed a fan holding up a USF Flowers jersey, while another time, they just showed Flowers standing on the sideline.

Both times, fans cheered — though not as loudly as when Flowers led the Vipers onto the field for their third offensive series. 

The crowd, announced at 18,117, could have easily passed for twice as much in the moment. Even stadium public address announcer Pat Donovan was overly enthusiastic announcing Flowers’ name.

“It was a great feeling, just knowing that people believe in you, because all my life, I’ve been doubted,” Flowers said. “All my life, I’ve been going against the odds. So for me to go out there and have respect from the fans, day in and day out, whenever I’m on the field, I’ll do whatever it takes for them.”

It was hard not to be romantic about Flowers’ homecoming, especially when he led the team to its first ever offensive touchdown on a seven-play, 58-yard drive, capped off by a 7-yard keeper by the man of the hour himself, who then took his helmet off and celebrated as if he were still playing for USF.

“It was a great feeling, knowing that this is where you made history at and you continue to leave your legacy,” Flowers said. “Just going in that end zone, I had to show my face because I’m like, ‘This is home. This is my second home.’”

If this actually were a Disney movie, the story would end there. Flowers would have been the hero the home team needed to secure its first ever win, and he’d live happily ever after as starting quarterback.

Except this wasn’t a Disney movie. The Vipers went 3-and-out on their next drive and Taylor Cornelius, who has started Tampa Bay’s last two games in place of the injured Aaron Murray, came back for the fourth drive.

Cornelius led the Vipers to touchdowns on two of their next three drives, but coach Marc Trestman told ABC at halftime that both quarterbacks would see action in the second half.

But Flowers never saw the field again — even on the drive after Cornelius threw three straight incompletions in a goal-to-go situation from the 1-yard line with the Vipers down by a score late in the fourth.

“We love Q [Flowers], we love what he brings to the table,” Trestman said after the game. “He’s going to be a part of what we do each and every week. But we’re going through a real transformation of trying to get a balance.”

The ensuing drive ended on an interception that Cornelius threw right at a Houston defender, for what it’s worth, and the Roughnecks walked away with a 34-27 win, which dropped the Vipers to 0-3.

The move to not bring Flowers back puzzled not just fans on social media, who had already been calling for Trestman’s job prior to Saturday, but even Roughnecks players, like quarterback P.J. Walker, who played against Flowers at Temple.

“I thought he did a great job driving the guys down the field,” Walker said. “It just shows the excitement level that he brings when he’s on the field, man.”

Ultimately, Flowers’ 4-of-6 passing and 80 all-purpose yards in his three series wasn’t enough — in Week 3, that is.

But Cinderella had to wait for her prince to find her after the carriage turned back into a pumpkin — her story wasn’t over when the clock struck midnight. Simba’s story didn’t end when Mufasa died — he lived in exile until he finally overthrew Scar and took his place as king.

The XFL season is 10 weeks long.

Flowers’ story isn’t over yet. There’s still time for his happily ever after, too.