Joe Flacco Named 2008 Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year

Joe Flacco has never been much for awards and individual recognition, even if that comes with a lifetime supply of soda.

He may have received both Thursday, as the Ravens quarterback was named the 2008 Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.

Beaming a sheepish smile, Flacco accepted a polished silver trophy at a press conference in Tampa, Fla., site of Super Bowl XLIII, and immediately deferred credit for his stellar rookie campaign.

"When you're up for these types of awards, there are so many other people that can win," Flacco said about honor give through ha fan vote. "This has a lot to do with my teammates and the Ravens organization. I'm happy to win it, but there are a lot of other guys that could deserve it."

Wearing a turquoise tie and grey jacket and slacks (which he claimed was the only suit in his closet), Flacco was joined on stage with four other deserving rookies: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and Houston Texans running back Steve Slaton.

But it was Flacco's role in leading Baltimore to an 11-5 regular-season record and an unexpected berth in the AFC Championship that likely separated him from the pack.

In his final 11 games of 2008, Flacco went 9-2 while throwing 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions for a 90.2 passer rating.

Then, Flacco went on to become the only rookie in NFL history to win two playoff contests, with both of them coming on the road.

Such poise and production belies the common belief that Flacco was not ready for the big leagues after the Ravens selected him 18th overall our of the Division I-AA University of Delaware.

"There are a lot of smaller-school guys that are doing good things in this league," said Flacco. "All you have to do is have confidence in yourself to go out and play in every game, and then we'll see what happens from there."

The fact that Flacco and Ryan, who also piloted his club to the postseason, were in competition for the award also discounts those that think rookie quarterbacks should not immediately start.

"I've said all along I thought it would be a benefit for me to play right away," Flacco explained. "I couldn't imagine the difference if I hadn't played from the start. I have 19 games under my belt.

"I feel like a part of the locker room and that the guys know who I am and what I can do. It gives me a lot more confidence going into camp already knowing the offense."

But while Ryan was basically named Atlanta's starter from Day 1, Flacco's course to the first string was aided by chance circumstances when Kyle Boller's year was ended due to a shoulder injury and Troy Smith missed the end of preseason with a blood clot in his lung.

"You can't do anything about what happened," Flacco said. "But I wanted to be in there to get the experience. I think you need that to succeed as a young quarterback."

For Flacco, being welcomed to a veteran-laden locker room was another factor in his rapid development.

Much of that stemmed from linebacker Ray Lewis, whom many regard as the heart and soul of the organization.

"The important role that Ray played was that when he accepted me, it made it easier for everyone else to accept me," said the signal caller. "From the beginning when I came in, Ray at least acted like he liked me, so I think when everyone else on the team saw that, it opened the door for others."

It seems that fans have taken to "Joe Cool," as well.

His No. 5 jersey is now ubiquitous around Baltimore. Wacko for Flacco is now a Charm City anthem. And in winning the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year award, fans around the world are voicing their support for the humble 24-year-old.

"It's pretty cool because the fans were able to get online and vote for it," Flacco said. "I'm sure our playoff run had a lot to do with it, and that just tells you what playoff wins can do for a team. Now, we have to improve on that."

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