ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Joe Flacco’s phone first rang, he didn’t pick up.
The number that had flashed on his phone in mid-February was from the Baltimore Ravens’ facility, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to answer.
“I figured obviously I was going to get traded at some point, but you start to get anxious and you start to want to know what lies ahead,” Flacco said Friday at his introductory press conference in Denver. “I hadn’t heard anything and then all of a sudden my wife and I are in the car and I get a call from the Baltimore facility. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to answer that because I want to at least know what I’m getting into when I answer this call.’ So I didn’t; I figured they’d leave a message.”
It didn’t take more than a couple moments for Flacco’s phone to light up again.
This time, Eric DeCosta was on the line — and Baltimore’s general manager had the news Flacco had been seeking.
“I quickly realized within the first 10 seconds of the conversation that he was about to tell me where I was going,” Flacco said. “When he finally said ‘Denver Broncos,’ my wife and I looked at each other as I was driving and just had big smiles on our faces.”
Those smiles were a long time coming.
It had been a tumultuous season for the 2008 first-round draft pick who had spent the previous 10 seasons as the starter in Baltimore.
After suffering a hip injury in Week 9, Flacco was resigned to the sideline. And even when he was healthy, he didn’t get his starting job back.
Instead, rookie Lamar Jackson — whom the Ravens took in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft — continued to start for the Ravens. That, understandably, led to some difficult months in Baltimore for the former Super Bowl MVP.
“If I have to reflect back on that time in Baltimore, it was not very fun,” Flacco said. “It was miserable sitting there on the bench, not being able to contribute and not really feeling like you’re a part of the team. But if that’s what it takes to be in this situation right now and be as excited as I am about it and my family is, then that’s what it takes.”
Head Coach Vic Fangio wasn’t sure Flacco would react with such enthusiasm, but he quickly was reassured otherwise.
When Flacco made a quick trip to Denver for a physical, the Broncos’ new head coach and new quarterback ended up staying at the same hotel for the night.
The two started talking that evening in Fangio’s room, and it quickly became clear that neither motivation nor desire to play for the Broncos would be an issue.
“We got together that night, he came up to my room and we started talking,” Fangio said. “I was a little worried that he wouldn’t be excited to be here having been on the East Coast his whole life, but I had to kick him out of the room about two hours later. He’s fired up to be here and that’s really what made me happy.”
Flacco, in part, is eager to assume the Broncos’ starting role because of the support he’s garnered from both Fangio and President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway.
Elway called Flacco “the best answer” to the Broncos’ quarterback dilemma and said he “still has all the tools to make the throws.”
“He’s played in a lot of big games and he has a lot of good football left in him at 34 years old,” Elway said. “We feel like he’s just really coming into his prime.”
After losing his job in Baltimore, Flacco said that Elway's words meant a great deal.
“It feels good to hear somebody say that,” Flacco said. “I mean, shoot, with Tom Brady now, quarterbacks are playing until they’re about 60 years old. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been and I’m as physical as I’ve ever been. Obviously, any time something crazy can happen, but barring anything crazy happening, I’m as healthy as I can be and as physical and as ready to go as ever. I’m excited about what lies ahead for me and my future. I’m not putting a number on how much time I’ve got left to play. I want to play as long as I can and hopefully they’re dragging me out of this building a long time from now.”
That kind of organizational support also represents a major change in circumstance.
Last season, his wife jokingly teased him about being a backup. Now, Flacco will look to add more moments like the one that still torments Broncos fans: a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter in the 2012 Divisional Round.
“Joe has won over 100 games as a starting quarterback in the NFL and that includes the most road playoff wins in NFL history with seven,” Elway said as he introduced Flacco. “If we recall, there was one four or five years ago that was pretty painful here in Denver. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more of those miracles on our side rather than against us.”
Following 10 seasons in Baltimore, Flacco thinks he’s built to thrive in those moments. And it makes sense that he would be. As he explained Friday, he’s been tested again and again.
“I played a lot of tight games in Baltimore,” Flacco said. “We relied on our defense a lot. It’s just always been kind of the culture around there and what people see us as. We played in a lot of hard-fought games because of that. I think when that happens, you’re not going to have games that look pretty, but you’re going to be tested a lot and you’re going to be put through the wringer a lot. Even though they don’t look pretty, you don’t realize how well you may have played in those games. But then when it comes to playoff time, a lot of the playoff games, that’s what they are. They’re all ugly and they’re tough. You’re throwing out of a little pocket. You’re not back there unmolested for 10 seconds. You’re throwing out of a tight pocket.
“I think that’s what a lot of my career was in Baltimore. It was a lot of those tight games that we won by close margins. I think when you get used to playing in those conditions and everybody else gets used to playing in not quite the same conditions, you just prepare yourself for being in the moment and those big situations … and treat them just like anything else.”
When the season arrives and Flacco trots out onto the Mile High grass — this time as a member of the Broncos — he’ll have plenty of more opportunities to thrive in pressure-filled situation.
And that’s what’s mainly serving as his motivation.
The way things ended in Baltimore? That could provide momentary bits of fuel for the veteran.
But as he said Friday, things like that quickly fade. You need more to stay motivated during a long NFL season — and Flacco has more.
“I’m driven because this is what I love to do,” Flacco said. “I love playing football and I want to be the best at what I do. Having said that, there are obviously little things each year that change that may add a little bit to the fire. I’m really not trying to think too much about my past and why I’m here. I’m really just trying to be excited for the fact that I am here and the offense that we’re getting to run, and the team we’re getting ready to build.
“I couldn’t be more excited about this being the place to make that happen.”