He experienced a heartbreaking side of his work in December, when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, another of Linta's proud finds, killed his girlfriend and then fatally shot himself outside the team's practice facility.

Ivy regular guys

Birk says agents weren't exactly flocking to him when he emerged from Harvard. Perhaps that's why he reached to a graduate of archrival Yale for representation.

"It was a charitable thing," Birk says jokingly. "I was trying to help those less fortunate."

Actually, he says, he felt a regular-guy kinship with Linta despite their backgrounds at blue-blood universities. "He's like a Miller Lite kind of guy," Birk says. "He's like me, and that's why we always got along."

Birk told Linta he didn't want a bunch of phone calls reminding him how great he was. He was fine with talking a few times a year, so long as they were straight with each other.

"A lot of agents overemphasize their importance," Birk says. "But Joe didn't oversell himself, and when the time came, he showed he could do the big deal."

In Birk's case, that meant a $31 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and a $12 million contract with the Ravens in 2009.

Those numbers pale in comparison to the $120.6 million deal for Flacco. And Birk says he's happy to see his lunch-pail agent get a shot at such a lucrative negotiation.

"But really, Joe is just servicing his client," Birk says. "Whether that's Joe Flacco or an undrafted free agent, he's going to care about the guy."

Doing his homework

O'Brien, who replaced the legendary Joe Paterno at the head of a Penn State program haunted by scandal, says he sought Linta more than Linta sought him.

"He does his homework," O'Brien says when asked to explain the attraction. "He works at it. He represents what's good in his profession."

Linta has become friendly with O'Brien's wife and kids. Like Birk, the Penn State coach says he loves having a beer with his agent, listening to Linta's dry wit.

"You want to see a guy like that have success," O'Brien says.

Though Flacco plays the game's most glamorous position, he shares many traits with Linta's other clients.

He came from a lower-division program at the University of Delaware and didn't get much NFL attention until late in his college career. He's an understated, family-oriented man.

Kleine says the agency gained an upper hand by identifying Flacco's talent early. "You could not go and watch Joe throw the football without saying, 'Wow,'" he recalls. "But guys still had five, six, seven other quarterbacks going ahead of him in the draft. We really got ahead of the curve and out-scouted the scouts."

The Flaccos saw a kindred spirit in Linta and trusted him to persuade NFL front offices to view their son in the best light.

"If you're a fringe guy, not a guy who's going to be a top pick but someone without high visibility, you need someone like him," Flacco's father, Steve, told the New Haven Register in 2009. "He has a history of helping those kinds of guys get into the league, and the people around the league know that and respect his opinion."