From Art Modell's founding of the franchise in 1996 to the decision to draft Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, to victories in two Super Bowls the past 15 years, the Baltimore Ravens' short history has been full of highlights. Jamison Hensley has covered much of that history, first as a Baltimore Sun reporter for 11 seasons before moving to ESPN. In this excerpt from his new book Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens, Hensley describes how the team got quarterback Joe Flacco even though owner Steve Bisciotti had pushed hard to draft Boston College star Matt Ryan.
Long before winning the Super Bowl in February 2013, the Ravens realized the extent of Joe Cool's calm demeanor at a cold and windy pre-draft workout at the University of Delaware.
Joe Flacco showed up with a bag of footballs and a few of his Delaware receivers. To see how Flacco would react, Ravens officials arrived with brand new NFL balls along with three other collegiate receivers that the team wanted to work out.
Flacco didn't blink. He smiled and asked how they wanted him to start. The throwing conditions were poor. The footballs were slick. Flacco was unfamiliar with the receivers. And only five of 150 passes hit the ground.
The Ravens wanted to confuse Flacco, and instead, they came away with more clarity about the future of the quarterback position.
Team officials walked to their cars in silence. They didn't even look at each other. With just a month left before the draft, the Ravens didn't want to give anyone watching a hint that they were so impressed with Flacco.
"It was there that we all looked at each other and kind of said the same thing: ‘Do you believe what we just saw?'" said Cam Cameron, the Ravens' offensive coordinator at the time.
So, imagine the Ravens' surprise when owner Steve Bisciotti challenged them to draft a different franchise quarterback -- Matt Ryan.
"I told those guys that if they had Matt Ryan listed as the best quarterback in the draft, then I'm willing to give up the whole damn draft for him," Bisciotti said. "I told them there is nothing worse for an owner or for them to be managing a business without a franchise quarterback. I said, ‘I don't care what we have to pay for him to trade up. We're getting Matt Ryan.'"
The Ravens, who were drafting No. 8 in 2008, knew they would have to jump six spots to No. 2 (and ahead of the Atlanta Falcons) to get Ryan. Baltimore called the St. Louis Rams, who had the second overall pick, and they wanted two first-round picks (2008 and 2009) along with the Ravens' picks in the second and third rounds.
Team officials convinced Bisciotti the smarter play was to trade back, acquire more picks, and take Flacco. The Ravens had Ryan rated as the No. 3 player in the entire draft and Flacco at No. 15. There wasn't much separation between the quarterbacks in the Ravens' opinion.
The team's scouts thought Flacco had a lower floor than Ryan, but he had the higher ceiling.
The Ravens dropped from a top-10 pick to near the bottom of the first round, which proved too far down to Bisciotti's liking. He started getting antsy that Flacco wouldn't drop to the Ravens. He didn't want to get stuck with a quarterback like Chad Henne or Brian Brohm, who weren't rated anywhere close to Flacco on the Ravens' board.
Bisciotti wanted the Ravens to trade a third-round pick and move up, but Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel at the time, didn't think the team should do it. DeCosta told Bisciotti that Flacco would be there at No. 26. Bisciotti then looked across the table at DeCosta and told him, "And what if he isn't? What if somebody takes him? Is it going to be worth an extra third-round pick? We have three of them. So, stop being a pick whore. Let's give up a third, and go back and get him, and be done with this."
The Ravens gave up a pick in the third and sixth rounds to Houston in order to go to No. 18 and take Flacco. At the news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome essentially delivered the coronation of Flacco, calling him "the guy to lead our football team into the future."
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. questioned the pick, saying Flacco was a second-round talent. The biggest criticism with Flacco was he played in Division I-AA against Towson and New Hampshire instead of national powers like Alabama and Texas.
"I had to go down to the minor leagues of college football to prove who I was," Flacco said. "I'm going to carry that with me for the rest of my life and use it for the best."
Flacco provided a glimpse of the future in his first practice with the Ravens, hitting wide receiver Mark Clayton on target with a pass that soared 50 yards in the air.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who watched 15 quarterbacks start for the Ravens from 1996 to 2007, couldn't hide his excitement.
"We've got ourselves a quarterback," Lewis told a team official.
The Ravens, though, wanted to bring Flacco along slowly. The plan was to sit him for his entire rookie season. The hope was for Troy Smith to win the starting job.
But, by the third game of the preseason, Flacco went from third string to starter after Smith came down with a serious tonsil infection and Kyle Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
"I didn't want to sit," Flacco said. "If you're going to say I'm your guy, then you should play me. I don't see any benefit of sitting and watching."
Flacco won over fans as quickly as he did the Ravens' organization. In his first career start, he surprisingly scored with his feet instead of his arm, running for a 38-yard touchdown in a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
In the first half, fans waved purple placards that read, "Wacko 4 Flacco." In the second half, the crowd chanted, "Let's go Flacco," something no other Ravens starting quarterback before him -- from Vinny Testaverde to Troy Smith -- had ever inspired.
"I kind of thought I heard it, but I wasn't really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?'" Flacco said with a laugh. "Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time."
-- Excerpted by permission from Flying High: Stories Of The Baltimore Ravens by Jamison Hensley. Copyright (c) 2014 by Jamison Hensley. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Jamison Hensley on Twitter @jamisonhensley.