Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks to hand off during a college football game against Rhode Island in South Kingstown, R.I., Sept. 23, 2006.
Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco (5) looks to hand off during a college football game against Rhode Island in South Kingstown, R.I., Sept. 23, 2006. (AP FILE PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

Just six weeks ago, Ravens fans had ample reason to boo quarterback Joe Flacco. And they did.

Flacco threw an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown just before halftime in a 34-17 loss to Denver in December.

Ravens fan Mort Shuman, an unabashed Flacco supporter, watched the whole play develop from his seat in the upper deck of M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Before Flacco could pick himself up off the turf, the jeering and booing began from Ravens fans. They were mad at Flacco, and Shuman felt compelled to defend him.

He hasn't had to do much of that lately. Flacco hasn't thrown an interception since that December turnover against Denver. He led the Ravens to the Super Bowl. And Shuman feels vindicated. At last.

Ever since the Baltimore Ravens drafted Joe Flacco in the first round of the NFL draft, many in the team's fan base have wavered in their enthusiasm for him.

Not Shuman, a member of Ravens Nest 14 in Eldersburg. He shares a University of Delaware connection.

Shuman is a Delaware graduate. Flacco played his college football there. Flacco is revered at the Wilmington campus, Shuman said.

Flacco will become the second University of Delaware quarterback to start a Super Bowl next Sunday. Former Blue Hen Rich Gannon started Super Bowl 37 for the Oakland Raiders. Tampa Bay beat Oakland, 48-21.

Delaware graduate Amy Weissenburger, of Laurel, remembers both. She watched Gannon play when she was in college. And as a Delaware season ticket holder, she got a chance to watch Flacco his two seasons at Delaware.

"There was no doubt in my mind he would be nothing but amazing in the NFL," said Weissenburger, a teacher at Fort Meade High School who keeps a Delaware and Ravens Flacco bobblehead on her desk.

Weissenburger, a huge Ravens fan, watched as Flacco got picked in the first round at a NFL Draft party at M&T Bank Stadium. Her husband Jeremy is the baritone section leader for the Baltimore Ravens Marching Band.

"I was the only one there who cheered when they picked him," she said.

And she's stuck by Flacco ever since. She has a Delaware No. 5 Flacco jersey autographed by the Ravens quarterback.

Her enthusiasm has not always been matched by all Ravens fans. Despite becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in his first five seasons, Flacco has been subject to ridicule when he has not played well.

Even Shuman, who owns two Flacco jerseys, won't go so far as to list him as a top 5 NFL quarterback. But Shuman's long been confounded with why many Ravens fans haven't been more supportive of him.

Jersey sales for Ravens players Ray Lewis and Ray Rice were among the top 25 in sales from April through November, according to NFLShop.com. Flacco's jersey sales did not crack the top 25.

"I just feel like people have to cut him some slack," Shuman said. "When his offensive line isn't giving him time to throw, that doesn't help. When his wide receivers are dropping passes, that doesn't help. He's not without fault, but there are a lot of things at play here, and I think a lot of fans don't see that."

Flacco's had his fair share of poor games, typically in the regular season, that have sparked hair-pulling moments from the fan base. The interception against Denver just before halftime was a low point, Shuman said. Cornerback Chris Harris returned the interception for a touchdown, a backbreaking play that led to a disheartening regular season loss.

"I had my head down," Shuman said of his reaction. "I said, 'oh, here we go. I'm going to have work overtime to defend him.'"

The occasionally lukewarm support of Flacco can be attributed to a number of factors, fans said. He didn't help his cause by proclaiming himself the best quarterback in the NFL in an April press conference, Shuman said.

After years of mediocre quarterback play, Ravens fans expect too much of Flacco sometimes, Shuman said.

"He's not perfect," he said.

When the offense struggles, Flacco often takes too much of the blame, said Ravens fan Vince Buscemi, of Westminster.

"When the going gets tough, some fans immediately point to two people: the quarterback and the head coach," he said.

In many ways, Flacco's personality is opposite to that of the bombastic Ray Lewis, the team's unquestioned vocal leader.

Lewis is passionate, fiery and loud. Flacco is easygoing, relaxed and soft spoken.

During her reign as Miss Maryland three years ago, Brooke Poklemba, formerly of Taylorsville, interviewed Flacco during a promotional event. Flacco was working as a celebrity server to benefit teammate Matt Birk's Hike Foundation.

Poklemba was struck by how shy he was, at first. She also was impressed he was there at all, helping out a teammate's nonprofit when he didn't need to.

"He was there volunteering for celebrity server night, which goes to show how much he supports his teammates and their causes," she said.

After throwing eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in three playoff games, Flacco's led the Ravens to their first Super Bowl in 12 years.

Suddenly, the much-maligned Flacco is a Baltimore hero.

"It's almost like this town has forgotten all the bad things they've said about him," Shuman said. "Suddenly, he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. He's definitely earned that respect in the last month."

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