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Ravens Insider: How Joe Flacco’s wife, dad and the rest of the Flacco Flock helped get him back in the game and on the road to the Super Bowl with Browns


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CLEVELAND — If Joe Flacco hadn’t gotten a job soon, his wife, Dana, might’ve had the perpetual shakes.

“Joe’s not one to sit still,” Dana told cleveland.com. “He was always like, ‘What I can do? I’m just going to get you a coffee.’ I think I had like seven coffees a day.”

If anyone could get Flacco — who saved the 11-6 Browns’ precarious season with a 4-1 record and will start for them Saturday against the Houston Texans in the wild-card round — through unemployment this fall after 15 years as an NFL quarterback, it was Dana. She had been with him since their senior year at Audubon High in south New Jersey, where he was the star quarterback and she was co-captain of the cheerleading squad.

They started out as friends, but soon realized it was something more.

They dated through most of college, with Flacco starting out at Pittsburgh and then transferring to Delaware, where the Ravens drafted him 18th overall in 2008. Dana remained close to home, first getting a certificate in radiology and then a bachelor’s in allied health.

They took a break for a few months after Flacco had been with the Ravens for a couple of years, but quickly realized they were meant for each other.

One night as they were watching a movie, Dana came back in the room from getting some hot chocolate, and Flacco was holding her gray and white cat, Sylvia.

“You don’t like cats,” Dana said.

She soon saw that Flacco had tied the engagement ring around Sylvia’s neck.

“Oh, that’s why,” Dana said.

The engagement was short. Three months later, in June 2011, they got married in Philadelphia, with 300 people in attendance. Dana was such a trooper, she posed as a center in wedding photos, snapping the bouquet to Joe.

AUDUBON, NEW JERSEY--APRIL 29, 2008-- Joe Flacco (R) is the Baltimore Ravens 1st draft pick in the 2008 NFL draft. He is pictured with his mother, Karen and father, Steve at his family home in Audubon, NJ. Baltimore Sun staff photo by LLOYD FOX
Joe Flacco, right, sits with his mother, Karen, and father, Steve, at his family home in Audubon, New Jersey. Flacco was picked 18th overall by the Ravens in the 2008 NFL draft. (Lloyd Fox/Staff)

Along comes the Flacco Flock

A year later, they had the first of their five children, Stephen, named after Flacco’s dad. They thought their timing was good with a June baby, but he arrived in the middle of Ravens mandatory minicamp.

“He got out of camp on Wednesday and Thursday,” she said.

Nine months later, Dana and Stephen traveled to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, where the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, and Flacco earned MVP honors for his three-touchdown performance.

“I didn’t go out much that week,” Dana said.

Afterward, she dragged Stephen around to Disney World and the “Late Show with David Letterman” on planes and helicopters for Flacco’s MVP circuit.

Their second child, another boy, came along just as the Ravens and Browns were about to kick off in Baltimore in Week 2 of the 2013 season. Dana, who had all of her babies back home in Jersey, told Joe the day before the game to not worry about missing the birth. But Baby Daniel had other plans. On Sunday morning, Dana called Joe during pregame warmups and told him she was on the way to the hospital with her mom.

“He said, ‘What do I do?’” she recalled. “I’m like, ‘Well, obviously go play and hopefully everything works out.’”

As luck would have it, Daniel was her easiest delivery of the five, arriving at 11:30 a.m. while Joe was still in the locker room.

“We talked on the phone, and we were able to send a picture to get his mind off it,” Dana said. “I’m like ‘All right, now you go play. I’ll see when you’re done.’”

The nervous dad threw for 211 yards and a touchdown that game en route to a 14-6 victory. The defense did its part, sacking Brandon Weeden five times.

Next came Francis, who was born a week after the Ravens got knocked out of the playoffs in 2015, meaning Flacco got to be there. A Pro Bowl alternate that year, he skipped the invitation to witness the birth. Next came Evelyn, their only girl, who was born on a Tuesday — a day off for NFL players and thus the perfect stork delivery day.

Last came Thomas in April 2018, which Dana thought was the perfect time of year. But Joe left a week later for the offseason program, and she suddenly found herself at home alone with five kids.

“And one of them was a newborn,” she said.

Unemployed QB

When Flacco found himself without a team in the fall — those former Super Bowl MVPs make the worst kind of out-of-work dads — Dana was the perfect person for the job. She rarely brought up the fact that the phone wasn’t ringing, even though NFL quarterbacks were dropping like flies.

“We all just kind of felt it,” she said. “Joe was probably frustrated at times, but he didn’t really show it.”

It was mostly when he was out and about, taking the kids to basketball games and wrestling matches, that folks grilled him. It’s hard to miss a 6-foot-6, 245-pound, out-of-work NFL quarterback in the tiny town of Audubon, population 8,707.

“You have people come up to you and they’re just kind of like, ‘Oh man, how’s retirement?’” Flacco said. “And you don’t really want to get into it with people. So sometimes you’re just like, ‘Oh yeah, man, going good.’ And other times you’re like, ‘Well, I’m not actually retired. I do want to play. So we’ll see what happens.’

“Other times, fellow sports dads would ask, ‘Hey, anybody call you yet?’ So they’re reminding you of it. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, nope. Haven’t gotten a call yet, man. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s crazy.’ But ultimately it was still all fun. You have other things to kind of keep your mind off of it most of the time.”

Such as?

“He was doing a lot of mom stuff,” said his dad, Steve Flacco, 62 and a former Penn running back.

Thanks to 15 NFL offseasons, Flacco wasn’t a complete stranger in the home.

“We’ve kind of gotten used to that routine,” Joe Flacco said. “I can help getting the kids out the door in the morning. I can throw some eggs on the stove before they get down there or ask them what they want. We’re always loaded up with chocolate milk, bagels, eggs, different protein shakes.”

Evelyn, daddy’s little girl, loved having Joe around full time, doing girl-dad stuff with her.

“I’ve tried to put my daughter’s hair in a simple ponytail and I’m a mess,” he said. “It’s just fun for me to try to do every now and then.”

The oldest of six kids himself — including five boys — Flacco is used to a chaotic household and hectic sports schedule.

“Ultimately, I’m just another one of the children,” he said. “I do get in the way probably more times than not. I can do little things here and there to try to help out, but my wife is the star of our house, there’s no doubt about it.”

Once a week, Evelyn’s piano teacher would come by for her lesson, and Flacco would hang around and listen.

“I’d see myself looking to see what they were trying to do and then look at her little book,” Flacco said.

Finally, he asked the teacher to start teaching him too.

“To be my age and start from scratch at something, there’s something exciting about that,” Flacco said. “I had a lot of fun with it the couple of months that I was doing it because I would sit down with him and I would be bad at it, and by the time he came back next week, I would be pretty good at what I was trying to be good at.”

The last song the teacher left him with in November was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“It was right before I got the call from the Browns,” he said. “I had to call [the piano teacher] and say ‘Hey, I’m not coming back.’ But I did bring the sheet music out here with me.”

Steve — Joe’s No. 1 hype man for getting him back in the game — knew it was time to ramp up his efforts when Joe took up piano.

“I said, ‘Man, that’s looking for something to do,’” Steve kidded. “But I think he enjoyed it.”

Unemployed NFL quarterbacks — especially ones who played every sport in high school — also make excellent playmates for four rambunctious sons, ages 5 to 11, and their friends.

“As soon as my boys walked in the door after school, they’d be like, ‘Dad, let’s go. We’re going to have a catch outside,’” Dana said. “Or ‘Can you take us to the field to play home run derby? Let’s go play basketball, dad.’ Even when all of their friends were over, they just wanted him to be out there with them.”

But coaching them up? That was another story.

“He’ll be like, ‘Hey, get your hands like this.’ Or if they’re playing basketball, it’s like, ‘Get your elbow up more,’” Dana said. “Whatever it is, the kids don’t want to hear it from their dad.”

Four days a week, Flacco worked out with his trainer, Brian Kane, at Evolution Fitness, sometimes with Dana, and sometimes on his own. He also worked with a nutritionist.

“Whatever he ate for dinner, the whole family ate for dinner,” Dana said. “I’m not one to make a hundred meals. I’m like, ‘This is what we’re having, and that’s that.’”

PLEASE CREDIT THESE COURTESY THE FLACCO FAMILY.AUDUBON, NJ -- 7/1/09 -- SP FLACCOS FERRON -- Steve Flacco with sons Joe (striped shirt) and Mike in a photo dated 1989 Wednesday, July 1, 2009. The Flaccos have two sons involved in professional sports - Joe in pro football (NFL's Baltimore Ravens) and Mike in pro baseball (MLB's Baltimore Orioles, after signing a minor league contract). (Karl Merton Ferron [Sun Photographer]) (_DSC2996.JPG)
Steve Flacco holds his sons Joe, left, and Mike, right, at their home in New Jersey in 1989. (Courtesy of the Flacco family)

Workouts with his dad and brother

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Joe headed to a youth football field in nearby Haddon Township for 45-minute throwing sessions with Steve and Joe’s youngest brother, Tom, 29. Tom’s 2-year-old son Joseph and niece Sophia were also often in tow.

“Joe didn’t want to give that up when he got to Cleveland,” Steve said. “He’s thinking, ‘This is crazy already. Last thing I’m doing is telling people I’m throwing a ball to my dad.’”

While Joe, 38, was the oldest in the family, Tom was the baby. But they bonded over playing quarterback. Tom, who had a short stint in the Canadian Football League and still has some UFL bites, played at Towson University when Joe was with the Ravens, and they became close.

“Joe and I would get warmed up and then we’d place my dad in certain positions where we’d want to throw it,” Tom said. “Joe and I would do the footwork and hit my dad, and he was just spot catching.”

But Steve was more than just a throwing net.

“Listen, I do run,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll run a partial route or something like that just to give them the idea of throwing it over my head as I’m moving. But even if I was in great running shape, how many routes could I run? Not many.”

Besides, it was tough enough catching passes from his two cannon-armed boys.

“I’m catching twice as many balls and I have to throw them back,” he said.

Before long, Steve started wearing receiver gloves.

“They’d make fun of me,” Steve said. Depending on how good it went on any given day, I could be a little bruised up.”

The three were so locked in, they’d sometimes lose Joseph and Sophia.

“We’d have to go looking for them,” Steve said.

Steve used the sessions to rattle off all of the NFL teams that needed quarterbacks and which ones might call. The phone wasn’t ringing, but Steve kept track of who was up, who was down, who had the best defense and the best receivers.

“My dad would just talk about the games on Sunday the whole workout,” Tom said. “If a quarterback got hurt, he’d be like, ‘I wonder if they’re going to reach out.’ Joe and I would just tune him out. He didn’t need much of a response. He could just keep going.”

While Steve railed into the wind from his various spots on the turf, Joe kept slinging the ball into his hands, with pinpoint accuracy and pillow-soft touch.

“It’s not about throwing the ball hard,” Steve said. “It’s about getting it to a spot on time and making it as catchable as possible. Joe does a good job with that. He has a really good sense of timing. Part of that is not overthrowing the ball.”

New Orleans-LA-2/3/13-sp-p7977-super-bowl-sweeney--Joe Flacco holds aloft the Lombardi Trophy. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers' 34-31 in the Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes Benz Super Bowl. Gene Sweeney Jr. \Baltimore Sun# 7977 ORG XMIT: BAL1302032314341490
Joe Flacco holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Flacco was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. (Baltimore Sun file)

Sundays at Mom and Dad’s

On Sunday afternoons, the Flaccos all gathered at Steve and Karen’s house in Audubon — about 25 strong including aunts, uncles, cousins and kids — to watch football and feast on the Super Bowl Sunday-worthy smorgasbord Karen rolled out from the kitchen — pork roast, lasagna, spaghetti, ham, wings.

Steve is mostly Italian, and Karen, who learned to cook from Grandma Flacco, is mostly Irish.

“We’re actually an Irish-Italian family, which is very common,” Steve said. “For some reason, we all marry each other.”

The gatherings — and Friday night pizza nights at the behest of their grandfather who insisted on a tight-knit family — included most of Joe’s siblings, Mike, John, Brian, Tom and Stephanie. Mike was drafted by the Orioles in 2009 and played minor league baseball for a while, and also played tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers. John was a walk-on receiver at Stanford.

“I’ve played a lot of catch and thrown a lot of batting practice,” Steve said.

During frequent arguments among the brothers over important topics such as which of them will get fat first, Joe is the loudest in the room.

“That’s how he thinks he’s winning the argument, by just being louder than the other person,” Tom said.

For the past 15 years, the Flaccos gathered to yell and scream over Joe’s games — mostly with the Ravens — living and dying with every pass, every third-down conversion, every time they ran the ball when they obviously should’ve let Joe throw it.

“It was total chaos,” Steve said. “You couldn’t hear the telecast.”

With Joe in the house this season, it was more subdued. While Steve and some of the others flipped around from game to game to see if any quarterback job openings arose, Joe mostly avoided the TV and spent time with the kids. As the weeks went by and some bitterness crept in, it was easier not to watch.

“I used to say to him, ‘I can’t believe you’re sitting here on the couch with us,’” Tom said.

Flacco has mulled the reasons no one picked up the phone.

I’m not that sexy of a pick,” he said. “How do you in the offseason get your fan base excited about bringing in this guy that everybody thinks they know who he is and has been around for 15 years? When you’re not playing, your confidence does take a little bit of a hit. But the overall feeling of ‘I can still play,’ that never went away.”

Flacco’s disinterest in NFL games didn’t stop Steve from providing the quarterback play-by-play each week, and from texting Joe’s agent, Joe Linta, with suggestions on who to call.

“His agent would get frustrated because he wouldn’t get any callbacks,” Steve said. “At the same time, I’m like, ‘You’ve got to put a bug in their ear because you don’t know what’s going to happen week to week.’”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco (15) talks to tight end Harrison Bryant (88) during warmups before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Browns quarterback Joe Flacco, right, talks to tight end Harrison Bryant before a game against the Bengals on Jan. 7 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

The Browns come calling

The Browns asked Flacco to work out for them after Deshaun Watson fractured his shoulder against the Ravens, even though Flacco had gone 18-3 against them over the previous 15 years, including a crushing come-from-behind 31-30 victory in Week 2 last year when he was with the Jets. Flacco threw two touchdown passes in the final 82 seconds, including a 66-yarder with that rifle arm.

“I said, ‘Dude, they’ve got a million hours of film, but if they see you in shorts throwing a ball around, they’re really going to like you,’” Steve said. “I said, ‘It’s not going to hurt.’”

When the Browns signed Flacco to the practice squad on Nov. 20, his son Daniel, 10 — the one born 90 minutes before the Browns game — broke into a huge smile.

“He’s like, ‘Amari Cooper and Elijah Moore,’” Dana said. “Daniel knows everybody in football. The boys have fantasy football teams, and they’re 11, 10, and 8.”

Like Joe, they’ll have to wait to play tackle football.

“We’ve had them do a little bit of flag football,” Dana said. “Joe didn’t actually play organized football until sixth grade, and our oldest is fifth grade. They ask all the time. They love going out front and throwing the football. They’re like, ‘I want this to be my sport.’ And we’re like, OK, in a year or two.”

It hasn’t stopped them from being armchair quarterbacks while their dad is playing.

“Daniel will turn to me after an interception and say, ‘Who was that supposed to be to?’” Dana said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ And then they show the replay and I’m like, ‘Oh, the dude fell down.’ But as soon as he walks out to see the kids, it’s ‘You threw an interception. You didn’t complete that pass.’”

Dana gathered up all the kids on Christmas and headed to the airport to spend the day with Joe at his two-bedroom apartment in a Cleveland suburb, followed by the Thursday night game three days later against the Jets, a win-and-in proposition for the Browns. When she arrived at the airport parking lot, she heard a familiar, disturbing sound in the car.

“I was like, ‘What just happened? Did you just throw up?’” she said.

When Joe picked them up in Cleveland, Dana delivered the bad news.

“Your son just threw up,” she said. “He was like, ‘OK, don’t come near me, don’t touch me, you guys are in there,’” she said.

Somehow they pulled off Christmas anyway, with the hottest quarterback in the NFL keeping a safe enough distance to go out and clinch a playoff spot three days later, and producing the gifts of the year in the process. Dana tried to order No. 15 Flacco jerseys for the kids, but they didn’t come in time for Christmas. She implored Joe to find some.

“I don’t know how he did it, but there was an extra little Christmas under his tree at the apartment, with Flacco jerseys and sweatshirts,” she said.

Apparently, Brownie the Elf worked his magic to conjure up the jerseys and Dawg sweatshirts. Flacco also gave Evelyn a “Tuddy Buddy” bear that former NFL quarterback and Amazon Prime analyst Ryan Fitzpatrick had jokingly given to Flacco for having thrown a touchdown to the same receiver. Evelyn clutched it during the game.

After a 37-20 victory over Flacco’s former Jets that catapulted the Browns into the playoffs for only the third time since 1999, with all the boys in their No. 15 Flacco jerseys and Dana and Evelyn with her bear, everyone joined Joe on the field for the postgame interview and celebration.

Cherishing the moment with his wife and kids, he said in his postgame presser, “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”

Twenty more family members and friends cheered him on from the stands — a Flacco frenzy — including his real-life Tuddy Buddies, Steve and Tom. The night included Nick Chubb smashing the Dawg Pound guitar with his Batman mask on, a twinkling lightshow in the pitch-black stadium incorporating fans’ phones, and fireworks when the Browns clinched. “Celebration” blared over the loudspeakers, and fans lingered long after the game ended to celebrate.

“We’ve never experienced anything quite like that,” Steve said. “Not even at the Super Bowl. It’s exciting, but it’s different. Not like that, where it’s focused on one team by one fan group. They’re turning those lights out, and adults turned into a bunch of little kids.”

Not even in Baltimore, where Joe might have to face his former team in the playoffs?

“Baltimore was incredible,” Steve said. “They had 71,000 people every game that we were there, and it was a great atmosphere, but nothing like that. I couldn’t even imagine Ray Lewis coming out of that tunnel in the smoke in the dark. It would’ve freaked everybody out.”

It took a flock of Flaccos to help get this not-your-average-Joe back on the field and on the road to the Super Bowl with the Browns. It’s proven to be just the caffeine buzz the whole family and all of Browns Town needed.

AFC wild-card round

Browns at Texans

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.


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