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Joe Flacco
A hometown hero comes back to play for his hometown team
By Dave Spadaro

Photos: Philadelphia Eagles

Joe Flacco grew up in South Jersey, left home and became a superstar and a football hero. But when he would come back to visit, which he did pretty often, he was still the same guy. You might bump into him at Wawa. Or even catch him at the high school football game. No matter his success, Joe Flacco was a regular guy. Now he’s a Philadelphia Eagle.

South Jersey raised Joe Flacco, and he’s returned to join the home team. We all need a happy sports story, right? This one is right in our backyard.

This wasn’t about a sentimental journey for Joe Flacco, to return to his roots in his 14th NFL season in a nostalgic kind of way. No, it was about an opportunity to join the quarterback room of the Philadelphia Eagles and compete for playing time, to continue his remarkable professional career. And yeah, if it means that all of South Jersey is just a little more pumped for the 2021 season, so be it.

For the unflappable Flacco, it is always about football first. It’s been that way since he was a multi-sport star at Audubon High School – there, Flacco played football, basketball and was a fireballer pitcher for the state-winning baseball team – in the graduating class of 2003.

“Health wise, my arm feels as good as it’s felt, and I’m excited to learn this offense and help in any way I can. I’m here to play ball. I’m here to win games.”

 

“I know there’s a lot of excitement among my close friends and family about me coming back, so it’s going to be a pretty cool opportunity,” says Flacco, who signed a 1-year contract in April and will compete with Jalen Hurts for the starting job on Nick Sirianni’s first Eagles team.

“It’s tough for somebody like me to show my excitement – it’s not who I am – but it’s there,” Flacco says. “I also understand that I have a job to do. The key to success in the NFL is to keep going. Keep your head down and work hard to overcome all obstacles, because there are going to be a lot of them.”

The foundation for Joe Flacco remains in place. His parents still live 2 doors down from Haviland Avenue Elementary School in Audubon. Many of his childhood friends are largely still in the area. Flacco has been back to South Jersey enough times throughout his NFL career that nobody is surprised when they see him on his bicycle pedaling around town. He stops at Wawa just like everybody else.

If there was a prototype of an “Average Joe,” Flacco would be the model. He’s unassuming, “normal” and very much aware of what the early years of his sporting life – and a home life with 5 siblings and the constant push and pull for territory – meant for his professional career.

“Everything I am today happened because of the way I was raised and the work ethic I built,” Flacco says. “The world wasn’t knocking down my door when I was a kid. I had to earn everything, and I think that’s played a big part in my success. You never take anything for granted, especially at this level. There is always going to be a challenge, always going to be someone who is in the same locker room trying to take away your job. I think that competition brings out the best in all of us.”

Flacco’s career at Audubon High School wasn’t particularly noteworthy until his senior season when Ralph Schiavo became the head coach and opened up the offensive attack, building it around Flacco’s huge arm strength. In one game, a loss to West Deptford, Flacco threw for a ridiculous 471 yards. Overall, Flacco threw for more than 5,000 yards in his high school career and then went on to the University of Pittsburgh before transferring to Delaware. In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens made Flacco a first-round draft pick and history was clearly in the making. He spent 11 seasons in Baltimore – where he won a Super Bowl and was named the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XLVII – then a season in Denver and one in 2020 with the New York Jets.

All of those years have been well documented as Flacco became one of the league’s best quarterbacks and, for a brief time, its highest-paid signal caller. In the realm of full circle, Flacco is back in the region as an Eagle. The Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field has processed a high number of Flacco Eagles jerseys, so expect to see them around South Jersey for the entirety of the football season. While Flacco is his typical calm, cool self about the new gig, the local reaction has been a bit more excited, to say the least.

“It’s really been surreal,” says Schiavo, who was the assistant coach during Flacco’s early years at Audubon High School before becoming head coach. Schiavo installed a pro-style offense, put Flacco in the shotgun formation and let the 6-foot-6 senior drop back and throw the football over and over and over again. “We were pretty exciting to watch because of his arm. Defenses had a lot to contend with playing against Joe. We didn’t win a lot of games only because we didn’t have a lot of players around Joe, but he was something to watch.”

“Joe is the kind of guy who stayed in touch with people throughout his career,” adds Schiavo. “He never let the success he had get to his head. He’s Humble Joe. He was great to coach, because he did everything we asked him to do. Watching him grow and mature and become a star you say, ‘This guy played for us. He’s a Super Bowl MVP.’ I get chills just thinking about it.”

The challenge for some players when they return home to play professionally is the pull and tug from friends and family can become overwhelming, a distraction that impedes success in the high-pressure NFL world. Flacco doesn’t expect there to be any problems with that. Audubon has been celebrating him for years with holiday parades and tributes and all kinds of fanfare. None of that has caused him to lose his focus, and that steady consistency has helped make him what he is.

Moving forward, Flacco is just going to be Joe.

“He would be in Wawa getting his coffee and the people would see him through the years and they didn’t mob him. They didn’t bother him,” Schiavo says. “It was just, ‘There’s Joe. There’s our guy.’”

Flacco is still “our guy,” but for the season ahead he’ll have something a little bit special going on for all of South Jersey to witness. He’s a Philadelphia Eagle. The hometown kid returns to the hometown to play for the hometown team.

For a player who has accomplished just about everything in his career, the moment is worthy of a special sort of recognition for Flacco. But just one quick moment. Nothing prolonged. Flacco is coming off some tough seasons – he left Baltimore after losing his starting job in the 2018 season, suffered a neck injury that limited him to just 8 games in 2019 in Denver, and was 0-4 as a starting quarterback with the Jets in 2020 – so there is plenty of work to be done to get his game where he wants it to be for the Eagles.

“I feel great about being here and being with this team. I love the coaching staff and the energy that is obvious every day in this building [the NovaCare Complex]. I think this team is heading in the right direction, and I’m excited to be part of it,” says Flacco, who will wear jersey No. 7. “Health wise, my arm feels as good as it’s felt, and I’m excited to learn this offense and help in any way I can. I’m here to play ball. I’m here to win games. The fact that I’m back in my home area, my hometown, that’s just icing on the cake. I know what I have to do to get ready for the season, to be at my best.”

“I love the game and I love being part of a team,” Flacco adds. “My goal is to have fun, play my best football and see what happens. Win football games. That’s what the focus is for me and this football team.”


Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

September 2021
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