Gian Villante of Levittown is looking forward to what he calls "an Al Bundy moment."
In about two weeks he'll settle in on his couch surrounded by friends, turn on the television like millions of Americans to watch Super Bowl XLVII, and then proudly pronounce to those assembled: "Yeah, I sacked that guy."
And he'll be correct.
While Joe Flacco has gone on to accomplish some remarkable things in the NFL - including leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3 - his college origins were remarkably humble. He left Pitt and transferred to I-AA (now FCS) Delaware and on Oct. 14, 2006, he played against Hofstra. Villante was a linebacker on that Hofstra team.
"I guess I can have some bragging rights," Villante, who is now a professional MMA fighter, said on Monday. "I can have my 'Al Bundy moment.'"
Al Bundy, of course, is from the 1990s sitcom "Married With Children" and the character would often spin tales of his football heroics to his disbelieving family. In Villante's case, though, the stories are true.
"I definitely remember him," Villante said. "I remember how big he was. He was so tall. He was the tallest quarterback we saw that year. And I remember how he ran because he had a long stride, and when he took off you were thinking that you could catch him no problem because he looked goofy, but he was difficult to catch."
Dave Cohen, who went to Commack High School and played at LIU Post (then called C.W. Post), was in his first season as Hofstra's head coach in 2006. He remembered the game and the play that nearly gave Hofstra the win.
Flacco completed 20 of 29 passes for 168 yards with another future NFL player, tight end Ben Patrick, having eight receptions for 72 yards. But late in the game the Blue Hens took Flacco out for another quarterback to run a Wildcat-type play near the goal line, and that quarterback fumbled. Villante recovered it at the 1 and instead of going ahead by two scores, Hofstra had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
"I said to myself: 'Why would you ever take him off the field?'" Cohen, who is now the defensive coordinator at Rutgers, recalled on Monday. "They could have sealed us and then they gave us a chance to where we could have won the game because the other quarterback fumbled."
Hofstra wound up unable to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Delaware 27 with 3:24 left in the game and turned the ball over on downs to give the Blue Hens and Flacco the victory.
Cohen's relationship with Flacco went back further than that, though. When he was an assistant at Delaware before coming to Hofstra, Cohen recruited Flacco. Ultimately it came down to Pitt, Delaware or Rutgers for Flacco and he chose Pitt, but after two years of playing behind Tyler Palko he decided to transfer.
The one year Flacco and Cohen were at Delaware together Flacco was ineligible because Pitt would not release him from his scholarship.
"I knew he had a special arm," Cohen said, "just seeing it that one year in practice every day when he was ineligible."
Cohen actually did more than just see the arm. One day in practice he said he was running a drill for his defense and Flacco was a scout team quarterback.
"I tried to hold the practice up because I wanted to talk to my linebacker and everyone stopped except for one guy and Joe threw a ball that hit me square in the head," Cohen said. "I went down and came back up really quick, but that night I was puking. He got me really good. The boys got a kick out of that one."
The last time Cohen said he saw Flacco in person was the 2007 CAA Football Media Day, just prior to Flacco's breakout senior season.
"He couldn't stop laughing," Cohen said. "He was telling the story to one of his teammates about the concussion drill. The way I went down he thought it was kind of funny."
What's funny now is that someone from such a modest athletic background could be one win away from winning a Super Bowl. Back then, who knew?
"I guess at that level you don't realize but you're a lot closer to those I-A guys than you think," Villante said. "At that level, you think 'Oh, man, these I-A guys must be so good,' but they're not that much further off. I played with Marques [Colston] and Willie [Colon] and they were awesome, but they weren't like 'Oh my God,' where you'd step on the field and that's it, they drop 50 points on you. I knew he was good. Did I know he was going to be as good as he is right now? Not really, but I knew he was good."
Cohen said he had more of a sense of Flacco's potential, but even he is blown away by watching the kid who drilled him in the head in practice get ready to play in the Super Bowl.
"I'm happy to see him prosper and watching his development," Cohen said. "Obviously anyone who has questioned him is no longer doing so after he outplayed two future Hall of Famers (Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) in two weeks."
Outplayed them just he like outplayed Hofstra back in 2006.
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