For the past year, I've been itching to write about the epic ping-pong battles Joe Flacco has in the equipment room.
What stopped me is that too often news of a Raven doing anything outside of playing football or studying football while at work draws raised eyebrows. Turns out, players are people too! So I'll preface this by saying all parties involved take their jobs with the utmost seriousness and are capable of mixing fun and work.
Head Coach John Harbaugh made a reference to the ping-pong competition during a recent conference call with PSL season ticket holders when talking about Flacco's leadership.
"All the guys look up to him," Harbaugh said. "He wins most of the ping-pong tournaments down in the equipment room too. … Joe's been drilling Tucker in ping-pong lately, so Joe's got that respect."
Only problem is, Flacco won't talk to me about it.
We've talked about such topics as his baby bjorn, a fake mixtape, a tip he left a Pittsburgh server, a touchdown dance that never happened, President Barack Obama calling him “James” Flacco, his desire for a massive family, his mega millions lottery ticket and even his sweet pop-up slide. (Wow, I have no life.)
But, perhaps for the first time, Flacco turned me down twice on the topic of ping pong.
My hypothesis is that's because Flacco actually isn't dominating on the Ravens ping-pong table – at least not lately. He's a beast, as this headline says, but there's currently a bigger beast on the block.
That honor belongs to kicker Justin Tucker, who was plenty happy to talk to me about ping pong. My first question to Tucker was whether he's the best player on the team.
"I would say so, but I've always been told you don't want to be the guy tooting your own horn," he said. "At the same time, toot toot."
Flacco and Tucker are the kind of people that are good at everything. They were two of the team's best cornhole players back when that was still the rage. When the trend shifted to ping pong last year, they quickly became the best in that.
To say they're both competitive would be an understatement. Flacco and Tucker go at it. You can hear their cries of joy or despair from afar. Apparently Flacco is a bit of a paddle-tosser, too.
"We're down to the last couple [paddles]," Tucker told Ravens Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne.
I can see why Flacco would get so ticked, and not only because I'm the same way. It's because Tucker is that annoying kind of player that you just hate losing to.
"I'd say my game is more based on patience, persistence and then finding just the right time to attack," he said. "Each point is a war of attrition."
And Flacco's style?
"Joe's good about being aggressive on the table when he needs to be," Tucker said. "He'll hit a nice forehand and just try to get a winner with it. More often than not, though, he's slamming it right into the back of the net."
Notice the twisting of the knife?
"Joe's good," Tucker said. "He's such a long, athletic guy that he barely has to move his feet when he's standing at the table because he can reach just about every shot. That's except when he's playing me. I make him shuffle around a little bit."
Tight end Dennis Pitta and punter Sam Koch also play. Pitta has a wicked backhand slam and was getting pretty good before his hip injury last year. Koch got Tucker's award for most improved player.
"At the same time, nobody wants to win the most improved trophy, do they?" Tucker said before ranking the players. "It's really me, Joe and then everybody else."
Before you get bent out of shape about the time spent playing ping pong (because I can sense it coming), Tucker says it has positive effects when it comes to football.
"I can honestly say that playing ping-pong and cornhole helps me on the football field so much. And I'm being dead serious," he said.
"Early in the day, like 9:30 or 10 in the morning when the rest of the guys are out at position meetings, I'll come in for 20 minutes and play some ping-pong. When we go out to practice later in the day, I've already got my competitive edge. I've already started my engine and I'm ready to go."
It also helps with the clutch factor. Immerse yourself in more competitive situations and you'll get more accustomed to operating under pressure.
"At the end of the match, when you've got to hit that one point to win it, that's when that competitive edge comes into play," Tucker said. "You've got to find it somewhere deep down inside yourself to just win."
So the fact that Flacco hasn't been winning as much likely explains his lack of desire to talk to me about it. After all, there is no NFL mandate about speaking to the media about ping-pong matches.
I'll leave you with this exchange between Tucker and Byrne in the hallway.
Byrne: "How's ping pong going? Did you play Joe?"
Tucker: "I'm killing it in there. I just smoked him. It was embarrassing. You should ask him about it."
Yeah, I think I know why Joe won't talk.