By Bob Glauber
---- — NEW ORLEANS — It may be hard to fathom now, what with Joe Flacco getting the Ravens to the Super Bowl with a series of exceptional playoff performances under immense pressure situations, but there was a time when his cool, calm, laid-back demeanor was looked at as a hindrance to his development as a quarterback.
Show more emotion, his critics said. Make it look like you care. Do something, anything.
Even Ray Lewis, the unequivocal and outspoken leader in the Ravens’ locker room, suggested Flacco develop a more outgoing personality. Especially now that the soon-to-be-retired Lewis wants to transfer his leadership role to Flacco.
“I think Joe has a great advantage and head start to really becoming that next true, true leader,” Lewis said. “He kind of has to come out of his quiet shell a little bit, but outside of that, Joe is definitely a great candidate for it.”
Sorry, Joe Cool isn’t buying. Can’t change who he is. Not now. Not ever.
“I haven’t worked on (being more outgoing), and don’t know if I agree with it,” Flacco said of Lewis’ suggestion. “There are a lot of different ways to lead, and the bottom line is it’s about motivating your players to get the best out of them and having the belief that you can go do it in any situation. Ray does a great job of that in his own way, and I don’t know if there’s anybody quite like him in that category.”
So why not at least try to become a more audible presence in the locker room? Particularly now, when Lewis is about to exit stage left after Super Bowl XLVII next Sunday?
Simple. It’s just not him.
“To do something along the lines of the way he does it would be a mistake,” said Flacco, who has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in three playoff games this year. “Just because I don’t think you’re going to live up to it. You’ve got to do it your own way, and I think naturally as you get more comfortable with people and people understand you more, and you become more confident in them, and they become more confident in you, you become more vocal as time goes on.”
But Flacco will never turn into the walking sound byte Lewis has been for most of his 17-year Hall of Fame career. He’s a far more understated presence, and anyone who has ever spent any time around him knows he’s one of the most understated players in the NFL. Actually, I’ve rarely seen a guy who is more unflappable — on and off the field. Throw an interception at a crucial time in a game, and Flacco simply walks off the field, shrugs his shoulders and moves on to the next play. Deal with rapid-fire questions at a Super Bowl media session, and it’s the same deal.
“Joe is always just the same,” offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. “When things are good or if they’re bad, he’s just even keel. I’ve been around quarterbacks who aren’t always that way, and believe me, it’s better to be like Joe. I don’t ever want to bust on him. I want him to stay cool. I know it works for him.”
Flacco’s calmness is occasionally misconstrued, though. For fans who want to see their athletes erupt in self-loathing after making a bad play — a sign that they care deeply about their craft — Flacco doesn’t fit the profile. But do not mistake that attitude for a lack of concern.
“Oh, no, Joe cares when he messes up, no doubt,” wide receiver Jacoby Jones. “He may not show it, but he cares. The thing that’s great about Joe is that he doesn’t really show that he’s bothered by anything. Your quarterback is like that, you believe in him and you know he’s going to do whatever it takes to make it right.”
Great quarterbacks run the gamut of personalities. Phil Simms was the picture of intensity during his career with the Giants, an emotional fireplug who showed his feelings on the field and on the sidelines. There were some epic shouting matches with Bill Parcells, and Simms was never afraid to get in teammates’ faces if they screwed up. Boomer Esiason was the same way with the Bengals and later with the Jets and Cardinals.
But Joe Montana — the original “Joe Cool” — was the polar opposite. He rarely showed emotion outside of raising his arms after throwing a touchdown pass, and he almost never addressed his team with locker room speeches. How about that time in Super Bowl XXIII, when the 49ers trailed Esiason’s Bengals in the final minutes. Before the team’s final drive, Montana looked around the crowd at Joe Robbie Stadium and spotted a celebrity in the stands. He turned to tackle Harris Barton and said, “Hey, look, there’s John Candy,” Montana said.
He then drove the 49ers to the winning score.
Flacco didn’t make any similar remarks when he was in crunch time during the AFC divisional playoffs against the Broncos in Denver, trailing the Broncos in the final seconds of regulation. But he did perform similarly; his 70-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the right sideline sent the game into overtime, and the Ravens eventually won in dramatic fashion to advance to the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
“That’s Joe,” Jones said. “Just very cool, calm, collected. I’ve never seen him get mad. Never. If he’s mad, I don’t want to see what that looks like.”
No need for anger. Flacco just doesn’t go there, although he will get in your face — albeit in understated fashion — if you question whether he’s good enough to be considered an elite quarterback. There was a radio interview before the season when Flacco created waves by answering a question about that by saying he doesn’t look at himself as just a very good quarterback. He looks at himself as the best there is. Just stated it matter of factly. Like he did the other day when someone asked about convincing his naysayers and finally getting respect.
“I really don’t care,” he said. “You know, 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.”
He’s here, all right. Here with a chance to with pro football’s greatest prize. And more well-earned admiration.