Page last updated on Mon Oct 05 00:03:31 EDT 2015
Wed, 30 Jan 2013 01:30 AM EST

Joe Flacco almost got benched.

It was 2006. Flacco was in his 1st season as the starting quarterback for the University of Delaware. He had spent 2 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, although he was dropping from a Division I-A to I-AA college, because Pitt’s coach at the time, Dave Wannstedt, wouldn’t 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 2nd career start, against Albany, Flacco had a terrible 1st half. The Blue Hens’ drive chart looked like this: punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, interception, punt, and the drive that climaxed in the field goal started at Albany’s 8-yard line. Delaware trailed 17-3 at halftime after gaining only 127 yards. Flacco completed 5 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.

If they’d pulled him, perhaps Flacco would have left Delaware. Maybe he would have played baseball, his other sporting love, as an alternative. It’s possible he never would have become the 18th overall pick in the NFL draft or the winningest quarterback in his first 5 seasons in league history. If Flacco had not been so mentally tough, so incredibly confident, so unafraid to fail, we might not be talking about 62 regular-season wins, 5 straight seasons with at least one postseason victory, 8 playoff wins total, 2 AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance for the Ravens since 2008. NFL betting lines

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 was a hard worker. 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 thru the tussles. He let Flacco find his way. Flacco lost that game and 5 others that season, but the following season, he led the Blue Hens to the NCAA’s FCS championship game against Appalachian State.

A couple months later, the Baltimore Ravens sent a delegation to Delaware — including 7 or 8 coaches and 2 of receivers — to work out Flacco. It lasted 2 1/2 hours, and half way thru, one assistant said to Keeler, “Coach, they’re all buzzing.” The workout finished with Flacco throwing a ball 80 yards in the air.

Here we sit, nearly fi5ve years on, and Flacco has become everything Keeler and Ciarrocca imagined. 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.

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