Flacco's return to the spotlight proves that age is just a number

Joe Flacco was once brutally flattened by a future UFC fighter — and bounced back. It was 17 years ago when he was a virtual unknown playing for FCS school Delaware against Hofstra and was eventually drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and put together a long NFL career.

In later years, the Hofstra lineman, Gian Villante, who inflicted the bone-crushing blow on Flacco, would go on to prove himself as a world-class expert in corporal punishment by fighting on the same mixed-martial-arts card. The likes of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre.

Villante, now a high school football coach on Long Island and, by happy coincidence, a Cleveland Browns fan, was turned on to the Dawgs by his old training partner and former UFC heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic, a diehard Clevelander.

And Flacco, against all reasonable odds, is still getting hurt and popping up again, winning football games for the Browns at a point when most seemed certain he was destined to serve as a placeholder or backup on a bad team.


The last two weeks have been an exciting ride for Cleveland with Flacco at the center, regaining and perhaps rekindling the confidence that faded after Deshaun Watson went down.

His experience, composure and composed play have led the team to a 9-5 record in wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, highlighted by a great late comeback last weekend and a series of clutch throws on the final drive when nothing was there. Otherwise it will suffice.

“I watched the game and I can't believe the guy I played against all those years ago is still doing it at such a high level,” Villante told me by telephone Thursday. “It blows my mind.

“Think about all the hits that have been taken from me and many others over the years. As a fighter, you can obviously get brutally hurt, but you can have six months until your next fight.” Quarterbacks trying to get a throw off. , they can't defend themselves, but they have to go back next week and do it all over again.”

Joe Flacco talks Browns pursuit of success | Fox NFL Sunday

Joe Flacco sat down with Mark Sanchez to discuss finding success with the Cleveland Browns late in his career.

Enough time has passed that it's not that easy to track down the people who intersected with the early days of Flacco's career, but there are plenty of handy reminders of just how long he's been doing it.

Remember back in the distant past when Beyonce did her halftime act and then the Super Bowl lights went out at the New Orleans Superdome? Flacco won the Super Bowl nearly 11 years ago, beating Colin Kaepernick's San Francisco 49ers in a big game.

Back then, LeBron James had just won his first NBA championship a few months earlier, and LeBron is now a supporter of the Flacco revival. Why wouldn't he? James is a Browns fan, turning 39 on Dec. 30, just 18 days before Flacco does the same, and the idea of ​​one old geezer shining for his hometown team for another seems perfectly fitting.

After spending the first two months of the season on the couch, Flacco will next face the Texans on Sunday in Houston. To be honest, what's more surprising is that it's a little hard to figure out that he's still here or how well he's doing.

If not for his advanced years, success would not be a shock at all. His career highs are 43,259 passing yards (19th all-time) and 239 touchdowns (30th), and even while bouncing between the Jets (twice), Broncos and Eagles, he never let his professionalism waver. As much as anything, that's benefiting from a talented but somewhat inexperienced Browns squad.

“You know what's ahead and what kind of commitments we've had, we're not blind to that,” Flacco told reporters. “But guys have a singular focus.”

The fan base, too, is ignited by seeing a veteran shine in a way that, frankly, guys aren't expected to do for this type of role.

“Everybody's pumped,” Villante told me. You see Watson's off-season with injuries, then everything comes flooding back – maybe even more so.”

Joe Flacco, Browns Shock Justin Fields, Bears – Dave Hellman Response | NFL on Fox Pod

Joe Flacco, Browns Shock Justin Fields, Bears - Dave Hellman Response |  NFL on Fox Pod

Dave Hellman sits down with Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kugler to analyze the Cleveland Browns' win over the Chicago Bears. How did Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns pull off the impossible victory? Did Justin Fields cost the Chicago Bears a win? Hellman also confirmed his personal thoughts on the Browns' victory.

If Chuck holds up in a loaded AFC, an 11-win tally could be all that's needed to make the postseason. With Flacco fired up, such a goal seems achievable, though a winnable game against the Jets and a tough one against the division rival Bengals this weekend would be a huge step in the process.

Through it all, it's worth considering that this is a somewhat strange and delightfully unexpected part of the career story of a former Super Bowl MVP, with his exploits in recent weeks being what some fans considered his salt-and-pepper beard. A lucky charm – but now hopefully it wasn't because he shaved it off mid-week.

For Villant, the connection to the past adds something to the viewing experience. Not many fans can say the QB they're cheering for is the guy they once took to the turf.

“I feel all the aches and pains in my body and I'm amazed at how he can keep going,” Villante said. “Let's hope he has a few more weeks left.”

Martin Rogers is a Fox Sports columnist and author of the Fox Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX And Daily newsletter subscription.

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