ENGLEWOOD — OK, let’s get this out of the way.
The Joe Flacco Era is a go, believe it or not, and the last thing anyone here needs — you, me, the Broncos, Joe Cool himself — is to hold any kind of grudge.
So let’s talk about it. Put it all out on the table, let bygones be bygones. Jacoby Jones. Rahim Moore. Flacco. Ravens 38, Broncos 35 (2OT). The Mile High Mistake. Go.
“Yeah,” Flacco said Friday with a smile in a back hallway at UCHealth Training Center. “Sorry.”
Are you guys going to be OK with this? Can Colorado move on?
All jokes aside — and Dana Flacco, his wife, had a few zingers we’ll get to later — that one still hurts. Always will, just as the Jags game still hurts, just as the first time a girl broke your heart still hurts. In this totally bizarre case it’s Flacco who is That Guy: the author of the single-worst play in Colorado sports history is now the single-most prominent athlete in Colorado.
Joe Flacco, starting quarterback of the Broncos.
Six years after the splat, is everyone OK with this?
“My first reaction was making sure there were no penalty flags ..." he rambled on.
So there it is. Joe’s sorry. Kinda, sorta. Because let’s be real: this is the second time the Broncos made Flacco rich. The first was after the 2012 season when the best team in the NFL — the 13-3, rip-roaring, all-three-phases Broncos — paved the way to Flacco’s $120-million deal with the Ravens. The second was Friday when John Elway and Vic Fangio introduced Flacco as the quarterback here with a deal that still has three years and $63 million left. He hasn’t taken a snap for them yet, hasn’t thrown a pass, and no team has been better to Flacco than the Broncos.
It’s a low bar, but the Broncos lately will take a win at quarterback however they can get it. And boy was Flacco’s introduction to the Front Range a refreshing change of pace, a leap into adulthood. Flacco’s meet-and-greet smacked of a franchise that’s moving from boys to men.
They moved from first-time coach, all-time space cadet Vance Joseph to Fangio, who’s 60. They cut linebacker Brandon Marshall, who gradually became more effective on social media than on the field. They went from Trevor Siemian’s Birkenstocks and Case Keenum’s cargo shorts to the snazzy pocket square worn on Friday by Flacco. You know, grown-ups.
On the flight to Denver, one that was delayed by the Bomb Cyclone, new offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James joked about the Flaccos having five kids: “He could have a basketball team.”
As his 6-foot-6 frame stood comfortably behind the lectern to take questions from the assembled media, Flacco crossed his legs as if he was on vacation leaning next to a palm tree. Talk about relaxed.
And it all summed up how rough the quarterback situation has been around here: Joe Flacco made things interesting. But can Flacco, who turned 34 in January, still play worth a lick?
“With Tom Brady now, quarterbacks are playing till they’re 60 years old,” Flacco said.
And that one wasn’t even the question on my mind. How are you going to answer that one in March, anyway? The question on my mind was the same question, as it turns out, on Fangio’s mind: Does Flacco still want to play? Because here's a guy who's already earned $147.8 million to play a game and just got told he's a backup in Baltimore. After 11 seasons there. After winning a Super Bowl there. At some point you simply call it a good run, buy a forgiving set of Mizunos, drive the kids to school. Not this guy. Not yet, anyway.
Like I was saying, Fangio had wondered the same thing: “What really got me excited is after we made the trade and he came out for a physical. He stayed at the hotel where I’m staying at.”
(No doubt Fangio’s still going to be living out of a south Denver hotel three years from now. More time for football film when there’s no lawn to mow and maid service arrives daily.)
"I was a little worried that he wouldn’t be excited to be here. He’s been out on the East Coast his whole life,” Fangio said. “And I had to kick him out of the room about 2 hours later. He’s fired up to be here. That really made me happy.”
It’s pretty clear what the Broncos are trying to do here. It’s the same thing they did here with Peyton Manning, even if no one’s going to compare the two: sign a veteran QB who’s been there, done that, and, with his own game clock ticking down, build him a hellish defense.
The next step must be drafting Flacco’s successor. Don't get confused, Broncos. That's still the priority, and a conversation for another day.
Quick note on Dana, his wife. She’s funny, friends. About when the Ravens relegated Flacco to a backup role behind rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, Mrs. Flacco hit her husband with a spree of one-liners: Can you open this jar for me? Actually, I’m good. You’re just the backup.
“It’s true,” she said.
“She was taking jabs. They were pretty funny,” he said. “I have to give her credit for those.”
That forgettable, painful playoff game — the Mile High Mistake — was no joke.
“Probably the most excited locker room I’ve ever been in. Not to rub it in here.”
OK, Joe. That’s enough. Too soon, still.