NEW ORLEANS — If the world hasn’t flipped over Joe Flacco the way it has over Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the reason starts with Flacco himself.
His body isn’t bedecked with tattoos. He doesn’t do anything that would make anyone coin the phrase “Flaccoing.” Aside from the slightly large size of his family by 21st-century standards — Flacco is one of six children — everything else about his background is pretty standard-issue.
He’s from New Jersey but not anywhere near the Jersey shore, so no one is about to confuse him for Ronnie or Vinny or (heaven forbid) Snooki. The closest thing he’s come to controversial is calling the decision to play Super Bowl XLVIII in his home state next year at the Meadowlands “retarded.”
Most of the time, though, he’s just Jersey Joe from suburban Philly — what you see is pretty much what there is.
“I don’t know if I would say I’m dull,” he said Tuesday during Media Day, “but I’m probably close to it.”
Except for the fact that this particular Jersey Joe is 60 minutes away from quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens to victory Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII against Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers, there is little about Flacco that screams bling.
Even when the Ravens picked him in the first round of the 2008 draft, Flacco didn’t go for a splashy news conference at a glitzy restaurant or try to head across the Delaware River to ring the Liberty Bell. Instead, he met the press down the street from his home in Audubon, N.J., at his old school, Haviland Avenue Elementary, where he still played pick-up basketball.
“Here, he’s just Joe,” Rich Horan, Flacco’s baseball coach with the Audubon High School Green Wave, told the Newark Star-Ledger.
Here, in the final days and hours leading up to America’s biggest annual sporting event, Flacco is a bit more than that. But even compared to Kaepernick, as in the rest of his career, Flacco has to fight for respect.
He started out his college career at Pittsburgh but, after two years of sparse playing time behind Tyler Palko, he decided to transfer to Delaware after the 2004 season. Pittsburgh and former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt refused to grant him a release, so Flacco paid his own $30,000 tuition to run the Blue Hens’ scout squad.
Flacco nearly lost his starting job in 2006, along with five regular-season games, but he stuck it out. As a senior he blossomed, throwing for 4,263 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions as he led the Blue Hens to the NCAA FCS championship.
In his five pro seasons, Flacco and the Ravens have won an NFL-best 62 games. In his three games this postseason, Flacco has thrown for 853 yards and eight touchdowns — including the overtime-forcing 70-yard prayer to Jacoby Jones against the Denver Broncos — against no interceptions.
And yet the debate over whether Flacco should be considered one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks remains hotly contested.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome apparently needs no convincing. He said he wants Flacco in Baltimore as long as Newsome is in Baltimore, even though Flacco’s camp is reportedly seeking a deal that would outpace the $19.2 million per season the Broncos are paying Peyton Manning.
“I think he’s a great quarterback,” Ravens receiver Torrey Smith said. “I’m not really one for all the rankings and stuff. I think, if you want to talk about winning, Joe gets it done.”
Flacco, for his part, didn’t care to negotiate through the media on the eve of a career-defining contest.
“Bottom line is, I’m not the guy going up to their offices and negotiating with them every day anyways,” Flacco said. “It was really never a concern of mine, and I never really thought about it. It’s a good problem to have.”
Wherever he plays and whatever he’s playing for, there’s a good chance Flacco will still just be Jersey Joe, the guy folks in Audubon see cycling in the offseason with wife Dana (they met in high school) past the stadium where he played, or at the grocery store.
“If you wouldn’t say ‘Hi’ to him, he’d be upset,” Horan told the Star-Ledger. “That’s the type of guy he is.”
But could Flacco, or anyone, be the same average Joe after playing on Super Sunday?