Steve Flacco, Joe’s father, is in the news today, quoted in the New York Times as saying his son is dull. The full quote, in the lead up to the Super Bowl, where Joe’s Baltimore Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers, went like this:
“Joe is dull. As dull as he is portrayed in the media, he’s that dull. He is dull.”
All of which is fine. And if that’s what people will think about when they think of Steve Flacco and football, that’s OK. But I’ll always think of the day in 1982 when Penn won the Ivy League football title for the first time in 23 years.
Steve was a tailback on that team. I had graduated from Penn 2 years before. I was covering the Eagles then for the Daily News, but the NFL was on strike and I was working on other stuff when I wasn’t writing about labor stuff. So I was at Franklin Field that day, Penn against Harvard, winner takes the title.
Penn had struggled for years, but the Quakers were making a turnaround under second-year coach Jerry Berndt. Harvard, a perennial power, was coached by Joe Restic. It was a cold day, and the press box in Franklin Field was open, and there were about 40,000 people in the stands. So there’s your setup.
The game was an emotional circus. Penn took a 20-0 lead through three quarters, and then Harvard scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 21-20 lead. My forever memory is of Frank Dolson, a Penn grad and the longtime Inquirer columnist, pacing endlessly in the press box -- that, and of the despair in the stadium as the victory slipped away.
With 1:28 to go, Harvard kicked off for the final time. Penn had the ball on its 20 -- and then it started. Crazy things happened -- quarterback Gary Vura got knocked out of the final drive for a play, likely concussed, before returning; one Vura completion deflected off of the facemask of one Penn player and into the hands of another.
And then came Steve Flacco. It was about over, and Penn needed at least 10 more yards to make for a realistic field goal try into the wind, and the final pass was a dump off to Flacco, and he managed to get the necessary yardage and, even more important, he managed to get himself out of bounds to stop the clock.
There were 3 seconds left -- and then it really got crazy. The field goal try was from the right hash mark, 38 yards away, and kicker Dave Shulman yanked it wide left. Harvard players and coaches began to celebrate when a certain person in the press box -- OK, it was me -- in a moment of supreme professionalism, stood up and pointed out of the open window and yelled, “There’s a flag!”
The call was roughing the kicker. Restic was apoplectic. With no time on the clock, Shulman made the 27-yarder and Penn won the title. Students tore down the goalposts and threw them into the Schuylkill.
The next day, in a moment that could only happen in the Ivy League, Restic announced, after viewing the film, that he was filing a protest with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (which supplied the officials) because the Harvard kid who was called for roughing had clearly been blocked into Shulman by a Penn kid -- not to mention that Shulman wasn’t exactly crushed on the play. As a result, Restic said, the only fair thing was for Penn to give back the title and award it to Harvard.
The quote for the ages:
“I think both schools should decide this,” Restic said. “It's not giving up something. It's unveiling the truth. I know an injustice was done. I cannot force them to do anything. In justice's sake, you want people to take a look and decide if it was a justifiable call.
"I would expect Penn to do the same thing we would do (if there was a mistake): Give the ballgame to us. I would not want to take anything we're not entitled to and I feel we're entitled to this one."
And, yes, he was serious.
Needless to say, Penn kept the title. And all of these years later, whenever I hear Steve Flacco’s name, that is what first comes to mind.