Joe Flacco couldn’t sleep. He dared not move because he didn’t want to wake his beautiful high school sweetheart laying beside him. She must so tired from the baby, Joe thought. How did she manage to love him, stay with him and create an actual life with him when he was obviously such a loser?
His wife stirred under the sheets and rolled over. Joe held his breath until he was sure she had slipped back into slumber. He closed his eyes and cursed himself for thinking too loudly, he didn’t want to upset the one person in his life who was there for him because on this night, Joe had never felt so alone.
In the morning Joe found his wife in the kitchen getting ready to start the day as the Flaccos always did. A small bowl of dry Cheerios for the baby, a bigger bowl of dry Cheerios for Joe. It felt warm in the kitchen and the air was sweet from baking.
“Good morning, Joe! Your Cheerios are already on the table, coffee is fresh and I put the morning word jumble out in case you wanted to practice before the boys came over.” Her words, meant as encouragement, were tiny daggers stabbing him right in the gut. Stay calm, Joe thought. If she knew the truth she’d leave him.
“Thanks, sweetie. What’s that smell?”
“Oh, I hope you don’t mind. I got so excited when you said Dennis, Jacoby, Steve, Marlon, Kyle, Torrey and Aaron where all coming over, I made a cake.”
“Your favorite, vanilla with vanilla. Thought you guys could each have a piece with a glass of milk after you toss the ball around.”
Joe froze, unable to respond. Joe’s heart raced as his brain shouted one singular thought through his head over and over, NO DON’T TELL HER NO ONE IS COMING NO MAYBE THEY’LL SHOW UP AND SHE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT A LOSER YOU ARE JOE. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND FIX THIS.
“Joe, you look worried. Don’t worry. Milk was on sale down at Food Lion so I was able to get two-for-one on gallons of milk in case it gets crazy. Your usual 1% and 2% for Dennis and Torrey, because you know how the have such rich tastes. Stayed right in our food budget without giving up a thing.”
Joe looked over the counter. The almond milk his high school sweetheart liked to out in her milk was missing from their typical tableau. She had sacrificed for him to stay in budget. Joe wanted to cry and hold her and tell her the truth about how no one had responded to his invitations to work out this offseason. He was the quarterback that no one loved. Didn’t want to come over to grill and watch basketball or baseball or hockey or whatever it is teammates watched when they were together. And they certainly didn’t seem to want to come over to throw the ball around before they got the new game plan from Coach Kubiak.
What if they had known about the cake? Would they come over now? Vanilla cake was the best cake, you know. Maybe he could save this.
“Ah, you’re the best sweetie. Thank you. I think I’ll go out and check the mail for any last second RSVP cards.”
“Oh, I thought you said everyone had already RSVP-ed to the workout?”
“Yeah, but you never know.” Joe stumbled to get the lies out. “Sometimes people send a second note saying they’re bringing a friend. Marlon is going to school to finish his degree, and you how college kids are. They always have lots of starving pals who come along hoping for pizza or chips or even cake. You know what, you should probably should go back to Food Lion and get more milk in case there are party crashers. I bet we’ll have some.”
“Joe, you’re the sweetest man for thinking of Marlon’s friends. Okay, I’ll take the baby and go get more milk for you and your friends.”
“Sweetie?” Joe blinked twice trying his best to sound upbeat. “Be sure to get yourself some almond milk too. Don’t worry about the budget this week.”
Joe walked to the mailbox as his high school sweetheart pulled out of the drive way and smiled as she blew him a kiss through the late-model Volvo’s windshield. He let her borrow his car from his big day out he was so grateful to have her in his life.
The mailbox was empty and Joe’s heart sank even deeper into his stomach. The feeling of despair churned a little faster as he spotted the postman a few houses down and Joe allowed for a moment of hope that the bright red, white and blue truck might stop and save his day and all of his wife’s efforts.
Joe half-heartedly waved when the mail truck rolled by his house without even pausing to throw a ValuePak of coupons in the mailbox. Joe looked up the street after the truck and saw his wife making the turn to the grocery store a few blocks away. Hopefully she hadn’t noticed he was still standing there empty handed.
Joe walked into male study — Joe had even fought against that when former Raven Tony Siragusa had shown up with a demolition crew and a pack of men’s Depends yelling at Joe he needed a capital M, capital C Man Cave in his house — and faced all the newly purchased strategy guides he had bought for his receiving corps. Boggle. Uno. Yahtzee. Joe picked up a special edition of Monopoly still in the plastic.
“DESPICABLE ME Minions. Ha! Wonder if they get all the railroads?” Joe wanted to wait and open that one with Torrey to find out since they had watched that particular movie together on the flight back from San Diego this year. Torrey could do the best Minion voice by the end of the flight.
Joe set the game down and sat down at his desk, sliding the Dell mouse over to activate his email. No new messages. Joe clicked on the Facebook tab. Two likes; one from his aunt who liked the jumble he linked to a month ago and his wife who liked a photo of their baby he had been tagged in. Joe clicked to the next tab over. No responses on Evite. The next tab over. No responses on Paperless Post. The next tag over. No responses on his Google calendar. The next tab over. LinkedIn just wanted to know if he was connected to the Seattle Mariners locker room attendant. Sure, Joe thought. I need all the friends that I can get.
Joe typed out five times, “Did I mention there was going to be cake?”
Joe’s high school sweetheart pushed her grocery cart through the Food Lion, smiling at everyone she saw. She knew the responsibly of being Mrs. Joe Flacco required her to be kind to all of Baltimore, but the truth was, she didn’t mind one bit. She’d always been a friendly person. The baby chewed on her keyring, getting drool all over the faded Raven logo. Wait, teeth marks? The baby doesn’t have teeth yet. Has Joe been worried about something again? She quickly pushed the thought from her mind and started to pull gallons of skim milk off the shelves when one of the jugs slipped out of her hands.
“Hey, Mrs. F. Let me get that for you. Catching is what I do. I catch. Like a catcher, but with a football. I’m sure Mr. F has told you all about me and my catching, Mrs. F.” Torrey Smith purred the words with such a smoothness, she it took her a second to stop blushing.
“Torrey, what are you doing here at Food Lion? Joe put on the invites that we’d provide fruit and snacks for the workout today. And don’t tell anyone,” she leaned in, “but I made you a special surprise. A cake!”
“Oh, Mrs. F. Joe didn’t tell you? No one can make it today. Marlon’s got school, Kyle can’t miss any more classes, Steve has a handful with his kids — you know how that goes judging by this keychain, and Aaron just hasn’t healed yet. Oh man, I hope you didn’t go through any trouble Mrs. F.”
“Did you let Joe know you weren’t coming?”
“Nah, man. You know. Just let that invite slide. I don’t even know how to login to my LinkedIn account anyway. Does Joe think we’re all coming?”
She frowned, concerned about her husband and not wanting to tip her hand with Torrey. Joe liked to be a silent leader type.
“That’s okay, nobody knows how to use LinkedIn Torrey, they just send emails everyone ignores anyway. If we knew how to login we’d be able to stop them. Um, you know, now that you mention it, Joe told me to put that cake in the freezer this morning for when you could come over. I just forgot, silly me. Thinking about the baby instead and not my Joe.”
“Then what about all the milk?”
“Oh, it freezes too. I like to get it when it’s on sale so I stay in my food budget. Gives me room to sneak in a manicure or a blowout from time to time.”
“You’re the best, Mrs. F. Mr. F is so lucky to have you and only you.”
“Right. Only me. Well, I should get this milk all into the freezer. We’ll see you soon, Torrey?”
“Um. Sure. I’ll try to get the guys over soon, Mrs. F.”
“Yes, Mrs. F?”
“Can you do me favor, and don’t tell Joe, but can you tell the paparazzi outside why you and the rest of the guys haven’t seen Joe yet this offseason? You know, for the fans? They get weird about these things you know. It’s so silly. But it would make them feel better. The fans.”
“Of course, sure thing. There’s really a paparazzi outside this Food Lion?”
“It’s Baltimore. Where else are they going to be?”
Joe sat his his computer hitting refresh on Twitter, hoping to see if any of his receivers posted anything about where they were. Dennis hadn’t even Tweeted in weeks and Torrey had Tweeted about Orioles. Joe imagined they were someplace fun.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) March 30, 2014
What was this? The workouts are coming soon? Joe’s eyes raced across the screen.
Tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Jacoby Jones have both said Flacco talked with them about getting together, and wide receiver Torrey Smith explained why the meetings have yet to take place.
“You all [in the media] keep talking about this and [criticizing] Joe like he doesn’t want to get together or something like that,” Smith said Saturday at his charity basketball game.
“We’ve been trying to figure it out, but people have to realize, [Kyle Juszczyk] is in school, Marlon [Brown] is in school. Steve [Smith] is still being a parent down there [Carolina]. [Dennis] Pitta is fine. Aaron [Mellette] isn’t all the way back yet. If we really go out there and throw, it’s going to be, Steve, Pitta and Jacoby. That’s it.”
Finding a time for everyone to meet in the offseason is a challenge because players use the time to visit family and take vacations, and they also live all over the country. If the group had met up earlier in the offseason, they would have done so before Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak had finished the new playbook.
What was the feeling. Was this the same feeling Joe had before after the Super Bowl when they gave him a huge contract? No. That was excitement. He had learned excitement. This was something else. Could this be relief?
Joe heard his high school sweetheart pull into the driveway and he quickly turned off his computer so he could break the news to her.
“Joe! I’m home! My phone went off while I was in the car, was that you?”
“Just a second!” Joe collected his thoughts in his male study. He needed to hid this new emotion from her so she wouldn’t see he was weak and alone.
When he came downstairs, the petite blond was already loading the cake into the freezer. “Well, looks like we’ll need to save this for later.”
Joe’s face flushed red, “How did you know?”
“Oh, the cashier at Food Lion saw Tweet from the team saying practice was going to coming up soon. Figured there must have been a change of plans while I was out. No big deal, the cake will keep.”
Joe silently pulled a gallon of skim out of a grocery bag.
“Unless you would like a slice now while it’s still fresh, Joe.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Don’t worry, I have some extra frosting to touch up the edge and no one will ever know you snuck a piece today with your wife.”
“I’d like that,” Joe replied, “I’d like that very much.”