Joe Flacco was quiet. He didn’t know why carefully removing his slacks from his suitcase, unfolding them then refolding them before he put them in drawer was so soothing to him, but it was. Remove pants. Shake pants out. Fold pants. Remove pants. Shake pants out. Fold pants. Their creases were perfectly aligned. For a $120.6 million Joe wanted to make sure the team knew he would have the neatest room at training camp. They didn’t need to waste another single penny on him with the cleaning service.
It had been a lonely offseason for Joe. His teammates never did respond to the game night invitations and eventually the special Ravens cake his high school sweetheart had made was used for child’s birthday party. He had made sure to suggest to her they use the cake though, just so she didn’t know his — What did other people call it? Feels? Feelings? — that his body hurt on the inside each time he opened the freezer for an Otter Pop and saw the cake sitting there. His body shouldn’t hurt, he thought. Haven’t taken a hit in months.
Pants all accounted for Joe turned his attention to his desk and methodically empty the briefcase his wife had packed for him. Playbook. Notepad. Pens. Pencils. Post-Its. Highlighter. iPad.
iPad? What is this extravagance?
Joe’s mind raced. He looked in his briefcase for a note or a box or some sort of explanation of how such a thing ended up in his hands. Was a mistake?
“I should have never valeted the Volvo, “Joe uttered to himself. “Some kid probably took it out of someone else’s car to play with and slide it back into my car by mistake.” Joe turned it on, hoping to see a WELCOME BRAD or WELCOME STEVE or whoever it was with a flashy name so he could figure out who to return the iPad to.
Joe gasped. The iPad started to make a ringing noise. He turned the iPad all over to figure out how to make such a shrill noise stop. What if the guys in the room next door heard? Would they be mad that he was holding such a fancy piece of metal? Joe quickly put the iPad under his pillow to muffle the sound. Then another sound went off. His phone.
PLAY THE VIDEO BUTTON ON THE IPAD JOE, read the text message.
Joe’s hands shook. He had finally gotten used to the phone that received picture mail around Easter and this just seemed too much. It knew who he was and it wanted to show him something? Was it a trap?
“JOE! IT’S ME!”
Joe was so relieved to see his high school sweetheart staring at him through the screen his knees buckled and he fell to the bed. “Hey, you. You startled me.”
“Surprise! I could barely contain myself driving over to drop you off, but I really wanted you to be surprised. And before you say anything, don’t worry. We were really good during the offseason and there was enough money left from the Busch Gardens Williamsburg trip to get you something nice for camp. You were right, not going on the coasters was the safer decision. I tucked away our ticket money to buy you this so we could say goodnight face to face at bedtime.”
As always, when Joe looked at his high school sweetheart it hurt so much on the inside it made his toes sweat. How did she know he was feeling so lonely already. He thought about how she told the kids no ice cream at the park. She had been planning on splurging on him all along.
“Now, before we say goodnight, I want you to know that I loaded up some football sites if you want to read them. That nice Michael Florio has a page, Peter King has a page…”
Joe stopped her mid-sentence he was so shocked. “The guys on TV are on the World Wide Web too?” Joe hoped he was calling it the right thing and tried to reach back to what he learned in college about technology. WWW was what he typed in when he went to LinkedIn to talk to that locker room attendant contact in Seattle, but that guy hadn’t responded to him in awhile so maybe he had been typing in the wrong thing.
“Yep! They’re experts in your field, so maybe we should be better about reading their sites. Maybe have them over for a game night.” She hoped the idea of someone finally opening the DESPICABLE ME Monopoly would cheer up her husband. He had looked so pained when she had left him at the curb that morning. Like a college kid not ready for the new year to start up. She knew that face well on him.
“You’re right. Can’t ask someone over if you don’t know what all their work is about.” He lowered his voice. “Thank you for the iPad. Let’s get some ice cream when I’m home to celebrate the end of camp. Just the two of us.” Saying “just the two of us” to her felt conspiratorial, almost naughty when spoken quietly through the shiny piece of silver and glass.
His high school sweetheart blushed. “Oh, Joe. Goodnight, Joe.”
And the screen was blank.
Bang? The Mr. Florio he knew didn’t seem like the type of guy who would tell anyone to “bang” anything. It’s why Joe took to him right away the first time they met. Maybe it was supposed to be funny, like imaginary little BANGS when you clicked on a story. Joe rubbed his hands down his legs real quick just to be sure. He didn’t want to get a shock of static electricity from his new iPad, he thought.
Joe frowned. He had no patience for players who danced around and made a lot of noise. Joe had long taught himself how to fool other people into thinking he liked the spectacle of it all — almost too well, Joe thought remembering the year Ray Lewis tried to teach him his dance. Fortunately for Joe Ray was more than happy to let the attention be all on him so Joe could just be Joe. Solid. Reliable. Shake-your-hand-firmly Joe. Brady and Manning were on the TV a lot, but Joe knew it didn’t matter. If Joe had learned one thing about television, being on it too much wasn’t a good thing.
Joe kept reading.
“Joe is just ‘Cool Joe,’” Suggs said upon arrival at training camp, via the team’s official website. “Most of the time he’s not the most vocal. But sometimes we may need that. He may have to cuss somebody out. He may have to cuss me out. It’s good to hear your quarterback get after somebody sometimes. I think it will be a good thing.”
“May have to cuss someone out?” Joe felt his ears burn. Usually when that happened he’d go for a walk or brush the dog until the heat passed, but it was the first day of training camp and he couldn’t leave now and no one had a dog. Joe pressed his lips together and kept going.
Suggs suggested that Flacco has in the past been more passive-aggressive when it comes to making his points. Suggs wants Flacco to be aggressive-aggressive.
Aggressive-aggressive? Why would Mr. Florio run a World Wide Web site with run-on modifiers? Double modifiers? Redundant modifiers? It didn’t look like anything Joe had seen in a book before and he shook his head trying to understand who could do that to the English language. He had seemed so smart on television. NBC was a big company and they didn’t need to put idiots on their network. Joe found his ears growing even hotter and he wished he could here the sound of a dog barking nearby. One that needed its coat shined up.
“He has cussed me out before,
WHEN HAVE I EVER CUSSED? Joe’s head was swimming. Looking across the room for a second he stared at the pants until the creases looked level again and not the zig-zaggity blur before his eyes. When have I ever cussed, he thought again.
but Joe knows how to do his little subliminal slick shots,” Suggs said. “We’re looking for a little bit more direct. . . . I’ve said it from the jump: We have a lot of leaders on this team. I’m really looking forward to seeing Joe Flacco come into his own. Be one of those premier, elite quarterbacks and talk to his team. We’re definitely going to stand behind Joe, stand behind Haloti [Ngata] and hopefully they all stand behind me.”
The knock from some on Flacco is that he doesn’t seem to care enough. Basically, Suggs is trying to get Flacco to care more. Or to at least act like he does.
Joe stood and set down the iPad carefully on his notepad. For a second the idea of smashing it with his playbook, the playbook that made him elite and not on some, some, trash site like this.
But the words must be true, he thought again. Mr. Florio had been kind to him when they met, had smiled broadly when they took a Polaroid together after the Super Bowl win. Picture was still neatly in his photo journal back home. A picture wouldn’t lie to him.
In a swift movement, Joe was across the hall and, and, and, AND he didn’t even wait to knock, he just opened the door.
“Fuck you, Suggs!” flew through the air as if uttered from a completely different human being.
The door was closed as fast as it was opened and Joe was in bed, under the covers — still in his clothes, shaking — as quickly as his feet would carry him back into the safety of his own room.
“What’s with him?” asked Matt Elam.
“Quarterbacks. Such drama queens,” replied Jimmy Smith. “You want to tell him Suggs is down the hall?”
“Nah, they’ll figure it out.”