by Robert Klemko, USA TODAY Sports
Published: 02/04/2013 10:18am
NEW ORLEANS -- Joe Flacco has just hit the "trifecta."
He has won the Super Bowl. He was named the MVP of a 34-31 victory vs. the San Francisco 49ers. And he has a life-changing announcement to make to his family.
It's 12:40 a.m., hours after the 47th AFC-NFC Championship game, and Joe walks into Huck Finn's on Decatur St., a three-room French Quarter sports bar tucked away from raucous Bourbon Street. Tonight the bar hosts a private party for Joe's family and friends, 60 of them flown here at Joe's expense the week of the biggest game of his life.
Wearing a long sleeve grey shirt, blue jeans and grey sneakers, Joe pushes open the door, grinning. The party cheers his arrival, and before he can hug his wife, Dana, chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" fill the bar. Outside, Ravens fans in purple jerseys crouch and peer through the window panes as an unassuming bouncer stands guard at the door.
Joe dishes out dozens of hugs, each female guest turning their face to the chest of the 6-foot-5 quarterback from New Jersey. Joe takes pictures too, and signs autographs for children who bring footballs and jerseys.
Its 12:50 a.m., and Joe makes his way slowly to the buffet line in the second room, where a bed of jambalaya, penne pasta in alfredo sauce and blackened chicken breasts lay waiting. Joe fills his plate and returns to the main room. Nine televisions mounted into brick walls are tuned to ESPN and NFL Network, and partygoers down free beers and chat as Chris Berman breathlessly relives the Super Bowl. Joe and his wife Dana gather their four parents around the table.
An announcement, whispered in a loud and crowded room: Dana is pregnant with the couple's second child.
Joe's mom, Karen, is quietly thrilled. She spends the rest of the night spilling the beans to those close to her.
Joe digs into his plate, shoveling home mouthfuls of Cajun cuisine as guests walk up to shake his hand and offer congratulations on the Super Bowl victory and MVP award. Somebody hands Joe a soda in a hard plastic cup. Behind him, on a red brick wall, rests a black and white picture of Hank Aaron, breaking his bat on a baseball. Above and to the left of the 1957 NL MVP hangs a picture of Babe Ruth, young, skinny and draped in a Red Sox uniform, taken some years before he won the 1923 AL MVP award as a Yankee.
Joe hears his name boom from a familiar voice. It's Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on the largest television in the room, interviewing with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio minutes after the game. Cheeks bulging with food, Joe's head pops up to look at the screen.
Paolantonio asks the former Super Bowl MVP, "What about Joe?"
Says Lewis: "I told him last night, 'you want to become elite? You go win the Super Bowl."
There's that word again: Elite. It's what Joe called himself in an offseason media interview. Sports journalists scoffed at it at the time. How could Joe Flacco, a quarterback who's never been to a Super Bowl, who's never been to a Pro Bowl in four NFL seasons, be elite?
Its 1:12 a.m. Joe scrapes his plate clean and heads back to the second room, where Ravens center Matt Birk and guard Gino Gradkowski give him hugs. Joe stops and chats for a few minutes, but everybody wants a piece of him. More autographs. More pictures.
Is Joe enjoying this party he's thrown, or is it becoming a chore?
"I guess it's a little of both," says his dad, Steve. "We have a few more people here than just our family. But he's enjoying himself."
Its 1:27 a.m., and Joe raises his voice for the first time. He tilts his head back and yells at no one in particular: "I'm not taking any more pictures, and I'm not signing any more autographs!"
Then Joe signs five more autographs, smiling as he does it.
Karen and Steve give Joe his space. She wears a pants suit adorned with a homemade pin picturing a quarterback, No. 5, dressed in black and purple. Steve is wearing khaki pants, a long sleeve blue polo, black, red and white Jordan sneakers, and a grey Super Bowl XLVII hat.
Steve Flacco is 5-foot-11, and he knows what you're thinking: "Everybody asks me, how tall is your wife?"
She's only 5-foot-6, and the couple struggles to explain how their three sons all ended up taller than Steve. Steve is a former mortgage broker who now assists Joe in non-football matters. Last week, Steve told the New York Times in a phone interview, "Joe is dull. As dull as he is portrayed in the media, he's that dull. He is dull."
It's a description backed up by Flacco's post-Super Bowl beverage choice, but Steve says he was joking … sort of.
"I'm kind of teasing when I say that," Steve says. "What they didn't print was me saying that we like who Joe is, that he's exactly what we want him to be. I say he's dull, meaning that he's not infamous."
Explains Karen: "He's not going to be anybody's P.R. nightmare."
Its 1:35 a.m. and the party is thinning. Parents are taking exhausted kids to bed. Joe wants to leave and he's saying his goodbyes. "Where's mom?" he calls out. He shouts across the room "Dana!"
Mom gets a long hug. She doesn't know how long Joe and Dana have known Dana was pregnant. Their first child is 7½ months old, and Karen says the couple told their parents they were expecting that child after a 2011 Thanksgiving night victory over the 49ers in Baltimore.
"It's a 49ers tradition now," Karen beams. "He's hit the trifecta. Somebody asks me if Joe was going to go win the lottery tonight. I said, 'He already has.' "
Joe and Dana leave the party, exiting through a back door at 1:40 p.m. Karen says the husband and wife, married in June 2011, are going to bed. Joe has a press conference in the morning, then a trip to Disney World for the MVP parade, then a flight to New York to film the Late Show with David Letterman, all according to recent Super Bowl MVP tradition. There will be questions about his personal life, offers for commercials, and there's the small matter of an expiring contract with the Ravens. Joe will soon be a very well-paid pro athlete with a public persona.
His dad has a vision: Joe is no longer Joe Flacco, Dull NFL Quarterback. He's Joe Flacco, Comically Dull MVP.
"I figure we can have a real good time with it," Steve says, laughing. "We can do a whole thing. It'll be like a Don Rickles act. He can make fun of himself.
"His public personality is that he's dull, but professionally, he's anything but. Especially after tonight. Tonight kind of punches the ticket for him."
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