Low-key Joe Flacco turns skeptics into believers
It may be hard to fathom now, after Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the Super Bowl with exceptional performances under immense pressure, but there was a time when his laid-back demeanor was seen as hindering his development as a quarterback.
Show more emotion, his critics said. Make it look like you care. Do something. Anything.
Even Ray Lewis, the outspoken leader of the Ravens, suggested Flacco become more outgoing. Especially now that the soon-to-retire Lewis wants to transfer his role to Flacco.
"I think Joe has a great advantage to really becoming that next true, true leader," Lewis said. "He kind of has to come out of his quiet shell a little bit, but outside of that, Joe is definitely a great candidate for it."
Sorry, Joe Cool isn't buying. Can't change who he is. Not now. Not ever.
"I haven't worked on that, and don't know if I agree with it," Flacco said. "There are a lot of different ways to lead, and the bottom line is it's about motivating your players to get the best out of them . . . Ray does a great job of that in his own way, and I don't know if there's anybody quite like him in that category."
So why not try to become a more audible presence in the locker room? Particularly now, with Lewis about to exit Sunday night after the Super Bowl?
Simple. It's just not Flacco.
"To do something along the lines of the way he does it would be a mistake," said Flacco, who has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in three playoff games this year. "Just because I don't think you're going to live up to it. You've got to do it your own way, and I think naturally as you get more comfortable with people and they understand you more, and you become more confident in them, and they become more confident in you, you become more vocal as time goes on."
But Flacco will never be the walking sound bite Lewis has been for most of his 17-year Hall of Fame career. Flacco is one of the most understated players in the NFL. I've rarely seen a guy more unflappable, on and off the field. If he throws a crucial interception, he shrugs and moves on. At a Super Bowl media session, he's no different.
"Joe is always just the same," tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "When things are good or if they're bad, he's just even-keel. I've been around quarterbacks who aren't always that way, and believe me, it's better to be like Joe. I don't ever want to bust on him. I want him to stay cool. I know it works for him."
For fans who want to see athletes erupt in self-loathing after a bad play, Flacco doesn't fit the profile. But do not mistake that attitude for a lack of concern.
"Oh, no, Joe cares when he messes up, no doubt," receiver Jacoby Jones said. "He may not show it, but he cares. The thing that's great about Joe is he doesn't really show he's bothered by anything. Your quarterback is like that, you believe in him and know he's going to do whatever it takes to make it right."
Great quarterbacks run the gamut of personalities. Phil Simms was the picture of intensity. Boomer Esiason was the same. But Joe Montana, the original "Joe Cool," was the polar opposite. He rarely showed emotion except for raising his arms after a touchdown pass.
How about that time in Super Bowl XXIII, when the 49ers trailed the Bengals in the final minutes? Before the last drive, Montana looked around Joe Robbie Stadium and spotted a celebrity. He turned to a teammate and said, "Hey, look, there's John Candy." He then drove the 49ers to the winning score.
Flacco didn't make a similar remark in crunch time while trailing the Broncos in the final minute of regulation in the divisional playoffs. But he did perform similarly; his 70-yard TD pass to Jones down the right sideline forced overtime, and the Ravens reached the AFC title game against the Patriots.
"That's Joe," Jones said. "Just very cool, calm, collected. I've never seen him get mad. Never. If he's mad, I don't want to see what that looks like."
Flacco just doesn't go there, although he will get in your face -- in understated fashion -- if you question whether he should be considered an elite quarterback. In a radio interview before the season, he created waves by saying he doesn't look at himself as just a very good quarterback. He considers himself the best there is. Just said it matter-of-factly. As he did the other day when asked about convincing his naysayers and finally getting respect.
"I really don't care," he said. "There are guys out there that have got to make a living on hating on somebody. If that's going to be us, if that's going to be me, then I plan on being around for a while. And if you want to continue to do it, I'll be here."
He's here, all right. Here with a chance to win football's greatest prize. And more well-earned admiration.