Shortly after the Ravens lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC wild-card round, head coach John Harbaugh gave Joe Flacco the ultimate compliment when he called him the best quarterback in Ravens history.
To some, that might not have meant much because the Ravens have only been here since 1996 and didn’t have the storied tradition of franchises in Dallas, Green Bay or Pittsburgh. But for others, it spoke great volumes because Ravens fans had endured so many quarterbacks through their first 13 years.
And finally there was Flacco.
He was the rookie quarterback the Ravens selected out of the University of Delaware in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. Since then, Flacco has been a polarizing figure in Baltimore but also a winner. In 11 seasons, he won a Super Bowl, played in three AFC championship games and has been a part of only one losing season.
Love or hate him, he presented a positive image of this city on those fall and winter Sunday afternoons because he was so unassuming and unpretentious, but he also gave fans hope. When he was hot, Flacco was tough to beat. And for most of his career, he was consistently among the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL.
He was Baltimore’s quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger represented Pittsburgh and Tom Brady represented New England.
The Ravens reportedly traded Flacco to the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, which created an even greater appreciation of Flacco’s overall body of work and ended an era of having a stable quarterback situation in Baltimore.
Before Flacco, the Ravens went through a carousel of starters, including fading quarterbacks such as Jim Harbaugh, Trent Dilfer, Tony Banks, Steve McNair and young failures Kyle Boller, Chris Redman and Stoney Case.
My favorite was Scott Mitchell, nicknamed the “Big Water Buffalo” by Rams defensive tackle D’Marco Farr in the Ravens’ 1999 season opener against St. Louis. Vinny Testaverde was the best throwing quarterback in team history. There aren’t many in the NFL that could throw as long as or with more velocity than Testarverde.
Flacco, though, was just more complete.
There were and will always be questions about Flacco’s accuracy, mechanics and work ethic. Privately, the Ravens have wanted more energy and rah-rah out of Flacco than he exhibited on game day. But what others perceived as a weakness was Flacco’s strength.
And he never deviated from that, which is why he was a favorite of the media and his fan base.
Flacco didn’t duck reporters after games regardless of whether he won or loss. There were times when he was physically abused and exhausted from games, yet he never shied away from tough questions and never pointed fingers at teammates.
There was no flash with Flacco. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs had their introductory dances. Defensive lineman Tony Siragusa loved to put his mug in front of a TV camera and few coaches were as charismatic as former Ravens coach Brian Billick during his early years in Baltimore.
But Flacco was just an ordinary Joe. He’d occasionally go out to dinner with friends, such as Dennis Pitta and Marshal Yanda. But Flacco was basically a 9-to-5 worker. When he was done, he was going home to his wife and kids.
At first, I was one of those who wanted more fire out of Flacco. I wanted him in a receiver’s face if someone kept dropping passes. I wanted to see him in arguments with his coordinators or to toss a water container on the sidelines in anger.
But that wasn’t Flacco. That wasn’t his style. That’s why he won so many games. His demeanor never changed. He was always in control. Flacco seemed quiet, but he was an engaging speaker in public. He wasn’t Vince Lombardi, but was professional, polite and entertaining. Afterward, he would hang around for hours signing autographs.
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Flacco was a pro. Even when the Ravens benched him in favor of rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson near the midway point of the 2018 season, he never complained. He could have because there is still the prevailing theory in the NFL that a starter can’t be benched because of injury. But Flacco never said a word.
He stayed silent even after the Ravens failed to insert him in the second half of a poor offensive effort against the Chargers in the Jan. 6 playoff game, his last game as a Raven.
The Ravens are about to embark on a new era with Jackson. They are back to the unknown with an athletic quarterback who can run better than he passes but has yet to prove he can win a game throwing from the pocket.
As for Flacco, he was a good but not great quarterback in Baltimore. But he’ll return to M&T Bank Stadium one day, either as a player on another team or to take his place in the Ravens’ prestigious Ring of Honor.