Joe Flacco: NFL Quarterback
Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco just completed his rookie season in the NFL. He had one of the best inaugural years a quarterback has ever had taking his team all the way to the AFC Championship Game just one game away from football’s greatest prize, the Super Bowl. Before he was a star in the NFL however, Joe Flacco played college football at the University of Delaware, a small I-AA school out of the spotlight of big time major college football. Flacco guided the Blue Hens to the I-AA National Championship game in his final season rewriting much of Delaware’s passing record book along the way. He had many incredible games, but one in particular stood out above all.
The first thing you notice about Joe Flacco when you meet him face to face is his size. At 6’-6’’ 230 lbs, he is quite the impressive physical specimen. The first time I met Joe Flacco in the summer of 2005, I couldn’t believe how big his hands were. When I went up to him after an August University of Delaware pre-season football practice to introduce myself, his hand practically swallowed up my entire arm when we shook. My first thought was, “Those are the hands of a quarterback.”
Flacco started his college football career at the University of Pittsburgh. He went to Pitt mainly because their coach Walt Harris had a great reputation for working with young quarterbacks and grooming them for the NFL. Unfortunately, for Flacco, he was stuck behind Tyler Palko who was Pitt’s starter and just one year ahead of Flacco.
After Flacco’s sophomore season, Pitt fired coach Walt Harris and hired former NFL coach Dave Wanstadt. At first, Flacco thought this might be a good thing. Since he had played very little in his first two years at Pitt, he thought he might get a chance to compete for the starting job with a new coach and clean slate. But when he arrived in the spring of 2005, Wanstadt declared that there would be no competition. Palko would be his starter next fall. Flacco would not even have a chance to compete. Flacco, destined to be Palko’s backup until his senior year, was crushed and started to weigh his options.
All Joe Flacco wanted was a chance to play, and it was becoming apparent the only way that was going to happen for him was if he transferred out of Pitt to another school.
Flacco left Pitt and transferred to the University of Delaware, which was less than an hour’s drive from his family’s house in the Philadelphia suburb of Audubon, New Jersey. Even though they didn’t play on football’s big Bowl stage, Delaware had a long and rich tradition including a recent I-AA National Championship just two years prior.
Flacco’s “divorce” from Pitt, however, was messy. Wanstadt refused to release Flacco from his scholarship meaning that Flacco would have to sit out the entire 2005 season. By the time Joe Flacco started Delaware’s season opener in 2006, it was his first full game of football since his senior year in high school almost four years removed. Despite some early rust, Flacco played well in his first season at Delaware, but the Blue Hens stumbled, losing three of their last four games en route to a disappointing 5-6 overall record.
Delaware entered 2007, Flacco’s second with the team, with high expectations. They bolstered the defense in the off-season, were healthy, plus Flacco and his receivers had a year of experience under their belt. The season started well for Flacco and Delaware. The Hens won their first five games easily, and Flacco completed seventy-two percent of his passes for over thirteen-hundred yards and six touchdowns. Delaware struggled on the road in their sixth game, however, suffering a 35-30 loss to New Hampshire setting up a showdown in Annapolis, Maryland the following week against the NavalAcademy.
They started playing football at the University of Delaware in 1889, and in the one hundred plus years since have had many incredible games and many incredible individual performances.
I wasn't there on November 10, 1979 when Delaware, playing on the road, erased a 31-7 halftime deficit while the zealot on the P.A. system shouted, "Let's hang the chicken." Delaware shocked the hometown fans that day coming from behind to beat YoungstownState 51-45 in the famed "Shootout" game considered by many to be the greatest game ever in Delaware Football history.
It was still a bit before my time in September of 1985 when Delaware shut down the powerful NavalAcademy and their Heisman hopeful Napoleon McCallum with the one man wrecking crew Daryl Booker leading the way. The Delaware defender recorded a record twenty-three tackles as the Blue Hens hung on for a 16-13 win at Delaware Stadium.
Like many fans in the pre-Internet and pre-ESPN everything days of 1993, I was fighting through the static on my AM radio to try to follow the unbelievable frozen Thanksgiving weekend opening round playoff game from Missoula, Montana when Delaware came back and edged the Grizzlies 49-48 in the ice and snow.
During my years covering the team, I had seen some great ones including the amazing regular season finale against Villanova in 2000 when Delaware climbed out of a twenty-five point second half hole on the way to a 59-42 win. There was the Navy game in 2003 when Delaware trailed by fourteen before they could even muster a first down. The Hens would use a fake punt to turn the momentum in their favor eventually holding on for an incredible for 21-17 road win. And then a few weeks later, I witnessed the classic 51-45 triple overtime win over Massachusetts setting up the run all the way to the 2003 I-AA National Championship.
On October 27, 2007, the University of Delaware showed up at Navy with a 5-1 record and a strong-armed quarterback named Joe Flacco. By the end of the day, Delaware and Flacco would have one of their greatest games ever.
It was a football game that at times felt more like a back and forth ping-pong match, and nobody on the field was better then Joe Flacco who played with the confidence of a guy who showed up with his own paddle.
Flacco had been outstanding both on and off the field since transferring to Delaware from Pitt, but against Navy's defense, he took his game to a whole other level completing thirty passes for 434-yards, and four touchdowns as Delaware rode Flacco’s strong right arm all the way to an incredible 59-52 victory. Flacco hit seven different receivers while guiding the team to 581-yards of total offense.
Flacco might have had a little extra motivation that day. Just two weeks prior, Navy beat his former team Pitt in double overtime mainly because of a horrible coaching mistake by Dave Wanstadt. While Pitt mired in another mediocre season, Flacco wanted to make sure that Wanstadt knew that Flacco and the Blue Hens were excelling especially against a team that had just embarrassed Wanstadt. Flacco also knew that Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis, who once coached the great Tom Brady and still had a ton of NFL connections, would be studying the tape of the Delaware-Navy game as his team prepared for the annual match-up with Navy the following week. A great day against Navy and maybe Weiss would take note and let his clue in his former NFL brethren come draft day.
Flacco also knew how important a win over Navy would be in the eyes of the I-AA playoff selection committee. Unlike the big boys who play in the Bowls, Delaware played in I-AA where the championship is actually decided on the field in the form of a sixteen team playoff, and Flacco knew that Delaware might have to rely on an at-large bid to make the post-season. Regardless of the reasons, Flacco did not disappoint. He was as dynamic as a quarterback could be, maybe even Tom Brady-esque, especially on the final drive of the first half when Flacco completed five passes in a row leading the Delaware offense down the field for a touchdown in under a minute.
As impressive as Flacco and the offense was that day, Delaware’s defense may have been the difference in the win, which might sound strange knowing that Navy scored 52 points and compiled over 500-yards. But the defense broke serve just enough by forcing two fumbles and getting one huge stop on fourth down to give Delaware the advantage in this crazy back and forth match.
After the Navy win in 2007, Delaware would lose two out their last three regular season games including a thrilling five-overtime loss to Richmond finishing the regular season with a record of 8-3, which definitely put them on the “bubble” in the eyes of the selection committee. Later, committee members would tell me that the Navy win definitely bolstered Delaware in their eyes.
Once in the playoffs, Flacco would lead Delaware to three straight wins including a remarkable come-from-behind victory over Northern Iowa on the road in the infamous UNI Dome. Unfortunately for Flacco and his Hens, they would lose the championship game to Appalachian State and have to settle for runner up.
After the season, there was a lot of buzz about Joe Flacco. The rest of the country had started to take notice of the Delaware quarterback. How would the NFL teams evaluate him? Flacco’s resume at Delaware was certainly impressive:
In just two seasons, Flacco set twenty University of Delaware records, including career records for completions (595), attempts (938), and season records for completions (331), attempts (521), and yards (4,263). He also holds Delaware career marks for yards passing per game (284.2), 200-yard passing games (13), 300-yard passing games (7), total plays (585), total offense (4,285), and total offense per game (285.7). Flacco set game records for completions (40) and attempts (51), consecutive pass attempts without an interception (212), yards passing per game (271.0), 200-yard passing games (21), consecutive 200-yard passing games (15), 300-yard passing games (11), pass completion percentage (.634), and total offense per game (273.9). He finished his career ranked No. 2 all-time at Delaware in career passing yards (7,046) while throwing 41 touchdowns against just 15 interceptions.
The scouts definitely liked his size, his arm strength, his smarts, and his incredible poise; nothing ever seemed to faze him. Coming from Delaware, though, there were questions about the level of competition Flacco faced even though Delaware had already produced some pretty good NFL quarterbacks in the past like Rich Gannon and Scott Brunner plus Arena League standout Matt Nagy.
The Baltimore Ravens liked what they saw from Flacco and were convinced to the point that they traded up in the 2008 NFL draft in order to secure him, picking up Flacco at the end of the first round with the eighteenth overall pick citing Flacco’s performance against Navy as evidence of his ability. Flacco became the first ever player from the University of Delaware picked in the first round of any pro draft.
I have covered many athletes over the years including high school, college, and pro players. Few, if any, had the physical ability of Joe Flacco. For example, during pre-game warm ups, I would watch him stand near the twenty-five yard line and easily hurl the ball seventy-five yards in the air to the opposite end zone.
Ability aside though the best thing about Flacco was always his attitude. At Delaware, he was always available and willing to talk, and answer questions with honesty. He never displayed the cockiness or arrogance that, unfortunately, often accompanies athletes with half of his talent. Whether it was after a thrilling win at Navy or a crushing 5-OT loss to Richmond, Flacco was always available to talk, and always had the same unassuming manor.
How unassuming? Joe Flacco did not own his first car until well after he signed his contract with the Ravens. He used to ride his bike to games in school at the University of Delaware and, believe it or not, his parents dropped him off for his first game in Baltimore.
In his rookie season with Baltimore, NFL fans learned what Delaware fans already knew.
Joe Flacco is the real deal as a football player and more importantly as a man.
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