Delaware recognizes this Joe Flacco
Ashley Fox [ARCHIVE]
January 25, 2013
t Facebook t Twitter

Joe Flacco almost got benched.

It was 2006. Flacco was in his first season as the starting quarterback for the University of Delaware. He had spent two seasons as a backup at Pittsburgh, but in 2005, he transferred to Delaware, which had recruited him out of high school. Flacco had to sit out a year, even though he was dropping from a Division I-A to I-AA school, because Pitt's coach at the time, Dave Wannstedt, would not release Flacco from his commitment.

So Flacco had to pay his own way to Delaware -- in the neighborhood of $30,000 -- and run the scout team for a year.

In his second career start, against Albany, Flacco had a terrible first half. The Blue Hens' drive chart looked like this: punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, interception, punt, and the drive that ended in the field goal started at Albany's 8-yard line. Delaware trailed 17-3 at halftime after gaining only 127 yards. Flacco completed five passes, threw one interception and was sacked twice, and the home crowd booed the team off the field as the players went into the locker room.

After addressing the team, then-head coach K.C. Keeler pulled aside his offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca.

"Do we pull him?" Keeler asked.

"If we pull him now," Ciarrocca said, "we might never get him back."

If they had pulled him, maybe Flacco would have left Delaware. Maybe he would have played baseball, his other sporting love, instead. It's possible he never would have become the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft or the winningest quarterback in his first five seasons in league history. If Flacco hadn't been so mentally tough, so supremely confident, so unafraid to fail, we might not be talking about 62 regular-season wins, five straight seasons with at least one postseason victory, eight playoff wins total, two AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance for the Baltimore Ravens since 2008.

Keeler loved Flacco. He was 6-foot-6, ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash and had a cannon for an arm. Keeler and Ciarrocca knew Flacco was smart. He was a sponge. He worked hard. He watched film. He learned from his mistakes. He was, as Keeler and Ciarrocca both said this week, special.

So Keeler trusted his assistant and stuck with Flacco. He let Flacco play through the struggles. He let Flacco find his way. Flacco lost that game and five others that season, but the next season, he led the Blue Hens to the NCAA's FCS championship game against Appalachian State.

A couple of months later, the Ravens sent a delegation to Delaware -- including seven or eight coaches and a couple of receivers -- to work out Flacco. It lasted 2 1/2 hours, and midway through, one assistant said to Keeler, "Coach, they're all buzzing." The workout ended with Flacco throwing a ball 80 yards in the air.

"They loved everything about him," Keeler said. "They loved his demeanor, the way he went to work. If he threw a bad ball, he didn't say anything about it. If a receiver ran the wrong route, he didn't say anything. I had a strong feeling they were going to do whatever it took to get him."

Here we sit, nearly five years later, and Flacco has become everything Keeler and Ciarrocca envisioned. He is on the precipice of joining the elite fraternity of quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring.

To hear Keeler and Ciarrocca tell it, Flacco always has possessed elite abilities.

They didn't talk with Flacco about whether he would reach the NFL until after his senior season. Scouts flocked to watch, but Flacco tuned it out. All Flacco cared about, Ciarrocca said, was "trying to get better every day, every week." That was Flacco's approach to practice, to meetings, to working out.

"He was trying to be the best he could be. That's why it was so fun to be around him," Ciarrocca said. "He never talked about the NFL or the scouts at practice almost every day. He never said, 'Hey, let me do this.' Whatever we had on the practice plan, we had. He never concerned himself with any of it."

Flacco had confidence in himself that everything would work out.

"He made it really clear he doesn't want to be good; he wants to be great," Ciarrocca said. "That was clear when he was in college. He thought he had that."

Two games after Flacco's awful start against Albany as a junior, the Blue Hens played the No. 1 team in the nation, New Hampshire. They lost 52-49, but Flacco played "an incredible game," Ciarrocca said. He was 28-of-45 for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

"He just kept getting better," Ciarrocca said. "He was handling the knowledge you were giving him. He could handle all the information, so I just kept going, and he kept grasping it and moving on. Now it went from me speaking to him to us having a conversation together as we're watching the film."

Keeler said he believed since "day one" that Flacco would end up becoming a Pro Bowl quarterback, an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl champion. A couple of days after Baltimore drafted Flacco, Keeler told Flacco that one day he would be asked what made Flacco so special.

Keeler asked Flacco what he should say.

"I'm not afraid to fail," Flacco replied.

"I thought that was a very unique answer," Keeler said. "It is true to who he is. When you watch him play and see how calm he is on fourth-and-1, he's not afraid to fail. If he doesn't get it done, it's not like he lacks preparation."

That's why Ciarrocca smiled when he heard the news last summer that Flacco had walked away from a generous contract extension the Ravens had put on the table. Flacco thought he deserved more, and he wasn't afraid to prove it this season.

"He has a ton of confidence in himself," Ciarrocca said. "As soon as [the news] broke that they weren't going to get a deal done, I laughed and thought, 'Boy, that just cost them a lot of money not getting it done.' I knew how he would think about that. He'd say, 'I'm not going to worry about this at all. I'll be better than last year, and it will take care of itself in the end.'"

And it did. Flacco made it so.

Keeler said he's unaware whether Flacco knows he was close to getting benched that day against Albany, but he knows how Flacco would have reacted. It's why he expects big things from Flacco against San Francisco on Feb. 3.

"He doesn't let things bother him," Keeler said. "He wouldn't have liked it, but he would have bounced back. I'm sure of that."


I don't want others to define me. I am my own man.

That is basically what Colin Kaepernick said after he led San Francisco to a comeback win over Atlanta last Sunday. He doesn't want to be known as a running quarterback or just a pocket passer. He is more complex. Simple terms don't apply.

This is a unique experience. Kaepernick has nine career starts on his NFL résumé,...
Next >

t Facebook t Twitter
Back to Top
ESPN Mobile Web Home
En Español
ABC News Headlines
Help and Feedback
Terms of Use
Interest-Based Ads
Privacy Policy/Your California Privacy Rights