Flacco’s five-year plan yields Super opportunity

Updated: January 29, 2013

At halftime of the Pro Bowl, Joe Flacco surely looked the part.

In fact, as the newly-minted 28-year-old (his birthday was Jan. 16) bantered casually with NBC host Dan Patrick, it was hard to imagine a time he’d been regarded as anything other than the cool playoff assassin who’d taken down guys named Manning and Brady on the previous two Sundays.

But just five years ago this April, he was anything but.

Back then, even as the Baltimore Ravens’ brass held a jersey in front of him and claimed he’d been the player — plucked at spot No. 18 in the NFL Draft — that they’d wanted all along, not everyone in the audience was buying the premise of a Delaware Blue Hen-turned-pro football star.

“Some teams have been burned by some small-college kids who haven’t transitioned well,” said ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. “They’re very conservative about taking a chance.”

The basic cable guru had Flacco positioned no better than third on his 2008 quarterback prospect board; lumping him alongside Michigan’s Chad Henne and behind both Boston College’s Matt Ryan and Louisville’s Brian Brohm.

As it turned out, Ryan went to the Atlanta Falcons with the third overall selection.

Brohm was chosen 56th overall by the Buffalo Bills.

And Henne was gone one pick later at No. 57, courtesy of the Miami Dolphins.

None of those three — nor the aforementioned Manning and Brady — will be on the field this Sunday in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.

But Flacco, thanks to Baltimore’s 28-13 win at New England in the AFC Championship Game, will.

“I really don’t care (about the doubters),” he said. “There are guys out there that have got to make a living on hating on somebody. If that’s going to be us, if that’s going to be me, then I plan on being around for a while. And if you want to continue to do it, I’ll be here.”

As for his 2008 colleagues, they’re having their own concerns these days.

Brohm never made an impact in two seasons with the Bills, losing a pair of starts among three appearances in 2009 and 2010. He was last seen toiling in 2012 for something called the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL as a backup to starter Chase Clement.

Henne arrived in South Florida and showed early promise, but the relationship with the Dolphins soured as his record sagged to 13-18 and ultimately led to his not being re-signed for 2012. He landed up the coast in Jacksonville and was 1-5 for the Jaguars in relief of injured incumbent Blaine Gabbert.

Ryan is 56-22 in 78 regular-season games since being anointed Atlanta’s post- Vick messiah, but his 1-4 record in the postseason — including a home-field loss in this month’s NFC Championship Game — has revived the whispers that “Matty Ice” remains a September-to-December commodity.

As they all tune in Sunday, Flacco will become the second Delaware alum (following Rich Gannon in 2003) to quarterback a team in the Super Bowl. Only three other ex-Blue Hens — Jeff Komlo (1979-83), Scott Brunner (1980-85) and Andy Hall (2005) — have taken snaps in the NFL at all.

“To have this opportunity is pretty cool,” he said. “There are a lot of people in this league that can’t say they’ve ever gotten to this point, so it definitely feels good to get here. I think it’s just one of those things you dream of when you are a little kid. You watch Joe Montana and those guys light them up in the Super Bowl. So to be here at this point is pretty special.”

Flacco’s journey to Baltimore, where he’s now won an NFL-record (for quarterbacks) eight road playoff games, was actually far less direct than a simple No. 18 selection would indicate.

The Ravens began draft day in the No. 8 slot, but their affection for Ryan prompted talks with St. Louis for a possible move up to No. 2.

The negotiations soured when the Rams demanded first-, second- and fourth- rounders in return, and, after Ryan went third to Atlanta, Baltimore traded that eighth position for Jacksonville’s No. 26 pick, two third-rounders and a fourth-rounder, with hopes of landing Flacco.

Then, upon hearing of the New York Jets’ interest in their man, the Ravens shipped a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder to Houston to get back to No. 18 overall, where the 6-foot-6 Audubon, N.J. native became head coach John Harbaugh’s first draft choice after he succeeded Brian Billick.

One round later, Harbaugh landed Ray Rice from Rutgers, and an offense long asked to merely stay out of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed’s way was elevated to co- starring status.

“They won those playoff games in large part because Joe Flacco stepped up on the big stage,” said Peter Schmuck, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun. “They won because they delivered (a series of) balanced offensive performances in which Ray Rice averaged 100 yards and all the front-line receivers made big plays throughout.”

And regardless of Sunday’s outcome in New Orleans, Flacco expects to be treated like a winner.

The Super Bowl will be his final game under the contract he signed upon being drafted, which paid him $6.76 million this season. He was already rumored to be seeking a seven-year extension in the neighborhood of $14 million per year, and his performance in the prolonged playoff run as a No. 4 seed — 853 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions — likely does nothing to lower that threshold.

He played coy during the on-air chat with Patrick, dryly responding to a query about whether the postseason results should enhance his compensation with a claim that the financial ball is actually in the court of general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Incidentally, after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 — with Newsome as vice president of player personnel — they let quarterback Trent Dilfer leave via free agency rather than re-signing him.

“You’d have to ask the guys in the front office that question,” Flacco said. “It’s not really my concern. My concern is with my teammates right now and making sure we go out there and play the best game that we can.”