By Jeff Nations
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may have parroted that famous line that makes Mickey Mouse's ears perk up all the way down in Florida (or California, I can't remember which), but I'm guessing his mind wasn't envisioning a prime seat on Space Mountain.
Flacco, fresh off a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player performance in Sunday's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, might justifiably been dreaming of his future bank account statement even as he uttered "I'm going to Disney World!" This, after all, is a man about to get paid -- lots of zeros, lots of years.
One assumes the one ripping the cover off his check book will be Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, but that's no guarantee. Flacco enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, meaning teams can line up to throw money at the strong-armed quarterback unless the Ravens come to terms with him first or use the dreaded "franchise tag" to keep him around at least another year. That would cost the team around $20 million, but might also spoil a feel-good time for locking up their offensive leader.
Assuming that Flacco values playing for the reigning Super Bowl champions and coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore should have a serious leg up in the chase to lock up the soon-to-be wealth(ier) Flacco. Both Bisciotti and Flacco have already stated publicly their desire to get a deal done.
That deal just got considerably more expensive for Bisciotti, though. Flacco stated before the season that he considered himself in the "elite" quarterback range, a case much easier to make after this stunning postseason run.
That "elite" statement, made by Flacco during this past offseason, seemed a touch lofty at the time. After all, the 6-foot-5 former University of Delaware signal caller had been solid -- good, even -- but far from the "elite" status of quarterbacks like the New England Patriots' Tom Brady or Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Flacco had never played in a Super Bowl, let alone won one, and had never even been to a Pro Bowl.
Elite? Well, yeah.
Flacco showed that he's capable of playing at that rarified level this postseason. When it counted most, Flacco was nearly flawless for the Ravens. He faced off against hot-shot Indianapolis Colts rookie Andrew Luck in the AFC Wild Card, turning in a typically Flacco-like line of 12 completions for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Also, no interceptions (that will be a recurring theme).
The road appeared much tougher the following week against the Denver Broncos in the divisional playoffs, as Flacco played second fiddle to legendary quarterback Peyton Manning's revived career. Manning was good (28 for 43 passing for 290 yards with three TDs and two interceptions). Flacco was great (18 for 34 passing for 331 yards, three TDs and zero picks) as the Ravens pulled off the 38-35 upset victory.
Again, Flacco paled in comparison to his counterpart in the AFC championship. That's understandable, considering that two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was running the New England Patriots' offense with his expected flair and efficiency. When it counted most, Flacco was once again at his best. His three second-half touchdown passes lifted Baltimore to a 28-13 victory and earned Flacco his first Super Bowl shot.
After what he'd already accomplished, Flacco could well have been miffed that the Ravens entered Sunday's Super Bowl matchup against the San Francisco 49ers as the underdog. The Niners relied on a rookie quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who hadn't even amassed a single season's worth of starts. Flacco had just bested Luck, Peyton Manning and Brady -- and his team was picked to lose?
Three touchdown passes in the first half signified that Flacco had other plans, as the Ravens seemed to build an insurmountable lead.
Then things got weird -- not that Flacco had much culpability. The lights went out, and the 49ers woke up. Down 28-6, the Niners scored 17 unanswered points to get back into the game. Flacco didn't get the Ravens back into the end zone, but he moved the offense with enough efficiency to ensure a chance at putting points on the scoreboard. Flacco-led drives in the fourth quarter led to a couple of prime field-goal opportunities, and Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker did his job admirably by punching a pair of field goals, from 19 and 38 yards, through the uprights to keep Baltimore just out of reach.
Other than an ill-fated F-bomb caught on camera right after the victory, Flacco was just about flawless. The same could be said for his entire postseason run -- 11 touchdown passes against zero interceptions, culminating in a Super Bowl MVP award.
Sounds pretty elite to me. Sustaining that level of play will be the next challenge for Flacco, but reaching it is no longer a question.
Flacco proved his point -- he is among the NFL's best quarterbacks. Now he's about to get paid like one. That's the way it should be, when you make Charm City "the happiest place on Earth."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>