Joe Flacco stood on the stage in the Superdome with the confetti falling all around him.
That's when General Manager Ozzie Newsome reached over and passed him the Lombardi Trophy, making Flacco the first Ravens player of the night to lay hands on football's greatest prize.
While it took a few seconds to soak up his place as the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player, there was no doubt that he became the full-fledged leader of the Ravens team and had cemented himself among the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
"Joe is phenomenal," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Flacco carried the Ravens in Sunday's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, just like he's done throughout the postseason. He masterfully picked apart the 49ers defense, making one big throw after another to march the Ravens up and down the field.
After the game, his teammates couldn't stop gushing about their franchise quarterback.
"Joe Flacco's the best quarterback in football right now," running back Ray Rice said.
"I've been a Joe Flacco fan," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "For him to come in and do what he did today and make some of the throws he made, this is what we've always seen."
For a team that has long been defined by its defensive prowess, Flacco has flipped the script.
It was the offense that led the Ravens Sunday, as they've done throughout the postseason.
"People have to respect him because we rode his arm through the whole playoffs," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Our defense played well, but we rode his arm."
Flacco finished 22-of-23 for 287 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 124.2. The Super Bowl performance capped off a remarkable postseason run for Flacco, where he finished with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, and outdueled future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning along the way.
He joined Hall of Famer Joe Montana – his boyhood idol – as the only player in NFL history to throw at least 11 postseason touchdowns without an interception.
"It's pretty cool," said Flacco who didn't even know about the record. "Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback, so to be put anywhere next to him is pretty cool."
Just like he's done all season, Flacco was unafraid to take chances. He consistently took deep shots, throwing balls up for Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith. The aggressiveness paid off.
If there was one play that embodied Flacco's game and his entire season, it was a fourth-quarter pass to Boldin with seven minutes, 15 seconds left in the game. The Ravens were clinging to a five-point lead and facing a third-and-inches situation, desperately needing to pick up a first down.
They came to the line with three play options to run. Flacco glanced across the line and didn't like the matchups for the running play, so he called pass.
He wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
Flacco dropped back and zinged a pass to Boldin in tight coverage 15 yards up the field. Boldin hauled in the tough catch and the Ravens went on to kick what would prove to be the game-winning field goal.
"To me, it shows you he's got guts," Harbaugh said. "He's got the guts of a burglar. He was doing it all night, making plays."
That gunslinger mentality and inconsistency at times has made Flacco the subject of criticism throughout his career. He's won at historic levels – he's the only quarterback in NFL history to go to the playoffs and win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons – but his accomplishments sometimes aren't enough to earn him respect in the national media.
"How many guys ever had this much success for five years and have taken this much criticism?" asked center Matt Birk. "He's kind of a victim of his own success I guess. But the great thing is that Joe never wavers.
"Now they're going to have to talk about Joe Flacco because Joe is a stud and he showed it tonight."
Boldin was even more direct in his feelings.
"People should shut up about Joe," said Boldin, who logged six receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. "I'm so sick of people saying Joe's not an elite quarterback. For all the critics who say he's not, ask them how many rings they have."
Flacco had his opportunity after the game to stand on the podium and dismiss all of the naysayers that questioned whether he was an elite quarterback. But Flacco took the same approach he's taken the last five years, and didn't get wrapped up in the discussion.
"I've never cared," he said. "I don't even want to feel like I'm in a position to defend myself, it's just not right. I don't have to do that."
That answer is typical of Flacco, and that's why the Ravens love him.
The franchise and his teammates have stood behind him for years, and on Sunday Flacco proved to them and the world that he truly is one of the stars of the NFL.
"Joe is Joe," Birk said. "Great guy. Great teammate. And great quarterback."