Joe Flacco: An Appreciation

January 21, 2012|Kevin Van Valkenburg

Dear Joe Flacco,

It's been a bizarre week, hasn't it? You're one win away from playing in the Super Bowl, and I think I've read approximately 11 million articles -- written primarily by people living outside the Baltimore metro area -- that seem eager to inform me just how truly terrible you are at playing quarterback in the NFL. Seriously, if I hadn't actually watched you play football the past four years, if I'd been locked in someone's windowless basement without Internet or cable, I'd almost conclude you stood accused of running a dogfighting ring or something. People seem genuinely annoyed you're playing in the AFC championship game.

To be honest, I almost feel like someone is picking on my little brother. I say that because I pick on you fairly frequently -- mostly because I recognize how talented you are, and I expect a lot from you -- but I'll be damned if I'm going to let the rest of the world tee you up repeatedly without coming to your defense a little bit. Because unlike, say, 80 percent of the people so eager to dismiss you, I've actually watched just about every significant snap you've taken in your career. I might not know know as much about playing quarterback in the NFL as Steve Young, but at least I'm working with all the evidence. I'm not basing my weekly frustrations with you on a handful of games, or worse, highlights.

I've seen you play awful, and I've seen you play brilliant football. I've seen you stomp on the neck of the Steelers twice at Heinz Field, and I've seen you sleepwalk through losses to the Bengals in Cincinnati. I've seen you look rattled, and I've seen you look fearless. I've always believed the most honest evaluation of your play was acknowledging you were good, but not great. At least at this point in your career. (And frankly, I'm not sure why so many people consider that analysis such a significant diss. The truth is, an honest evaluation of my skills would probably conclude I'm a good writer, but I'm not a great one. I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of. If The Sun traded me to The Boston Globe for a writer to be named later, it doesn't mean readers would be doomed to read the journalistic equivalent of Stoney Case or Eric Zeier as my replacement. But people frequently talk about Flacco that way.) I've realized, however, the middle ground in any argument is never going to be easy to occupy. Nuance isn't particularly sexy. It doesn't make for great radio, and it wouldn't pay Skip Bayless' mortgage.

So for once, I'm going to say the heck with nuance. After watching the national media smack you around like a gang of party-goers taking drunken swings at a unibrowed pinata, I've come to praise you, Joe Flacco, not to bury you. The world beyond the Baltimore beltway seems to think you can't even lace up your cleats properly without stumbling, and it's reached the point of absurdity.

Sometimes I wonder, Joe, why people can't seem to grasp the fact that fantasy football stats don't exactly determine whether or not a player is actually doing his job, or whether he's a good fit for his team. Stats aren't irrelevant, Joe, and I don't want to cast you as a plucky 6-foot-5 football version of David Eckstein. But the idea that baseball statistics and football statistics can be viewed similarly is utterly ridiculous. In baseball, Barry Bonds can be a complete jerk and have an OPS of 1.422 and there is absolutely no doubt he's still the MVP. There is no more valuable person you can put in the lineup in his place, and it doesn't matter whether he doesn't speak to anyone or refuses to run out ground balls. Intangibles in baseball are overrated. I'll take a guy who can actually hit over a guy who is dubbed "a good clubhouse influence" by the media every single time. 

But football is a little different, Joe, and I think you understand this. Everything is married and fused together in football in a way that it's not in baseball. There is no one in baseball calling plays, dropping passes, struggling to get open or failing to give you enough time to throw. Baseball is like nine guys doing standup comedy and then calling it a "show," whereas football is like 53 guys throwing together on a violent Broadway play every week. Obviously, it isn't always pretty, but I think the fact that the people you work with know you're never going to miss a performance, and you're rarely going to flub your lines, actually matters a lot. 

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