NORTHFIELD - Joe Flacco used to be invisible at Ron Jaworski's Celebrity Challenge golf tournament.
The South Jersey native and Baltimore Ravens quarterback would add his signature to the footballs for the charity auction, get introduced to partners who would wonder why they weren't paired with a bigger star and then he'd play a round at Atlantic City Country Club before heading back to his home in Haddonfield.
He was among the headliners this time, however.
Flacco, who won the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award while leading the Ravens to the championship in February, posed for dozens of photos while chatting with NBA legend Julius Erving and Jaworski. He exchanged small talk with LPGA star Michelle Wie, who smoked the ceremonial first drive so far down the first fairway that someone suggested it landed in Ocean City. Then Flacco joined a foursome that included a Harrah's Resort Atlantic City executive and several of the property's biggest customers.
"I'm having fun meeting everyone and talking to other athletes like Michelle," Flacco said. "It's always cool to meet people from other sports."
Wie did not grant interviews to the media but recounted a football tale for Flacco and Jaworski from her days as an undergraduate at Stanford University while bystanders gathered around the group.
On her first day on campus, Wie was approached by then-Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh and now the coach of the San Francisco team that Flacco and the Ravens beat in the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh asked her to give a pep talk to the football team.
"I didn't know what to say, but you can't say no to Jim Harbaugh," Wie told Flacco, whose younger brother John is a senior backup wide receiver at Stanford. "They were getting ready to play 'U of A' (University of Arizona) and I said something like, 'Beat Arizona State.' It was so bad."
Monday's golf outing was part of what has been a whirlwind offseason for Joe Flacco.
After taking the obligatory trip to Disney World after the Super Bowl, he signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract in March that briefly made him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
"It's been crazy," Flacco said. "It actually hasn't been too bad lately, though. It took about a week for all the hoopla to die down. I've been spending some time with my family in the Haddonfield area and now it's almost time to get back to football."
His preparation for the 2013 season begins today, when he's scheduled to participate in the Ravens' first session of organized team activities (OTAs) in Baltimore.
The 28-year-old will mix in workouts with trips back to South Jersey for the next two months before the Ravens start their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions when they open training camp in late July.
"The OTAs aren't too bad," Flacco said. "It's not like I'm a rookie and have to prove myself. I've been through a million practices and I know what to do. I'll go down there, throw a couple of passes, and I'll be good."
Flacco, 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, was considered to be just a notch below the NFL's elite quarterbacks through his first four seasons in the league.
He enhanced his status dramatically last season, however. He threw for 3,817 yards with 22 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions in the regular season and then really raised his game in the playoffs by passing for 1,140 yards with 11 TDs and no interceptions in four playoff games, including the Super Bowl.
He capped it by completing 22-of-33 passes for 287 yards with three TDs and no turnovers in a 34-31 win in the Super Bowl.
"What he was able to accomplish last season didn't surprise me at all," Jaworski said. "I was one of the guys who was pretty impressed with Joe early on because of his arm strength. He's one of those guys who can throw the ball deep downfield and drop it into a chimney (deliver the ball on an arc).
"I've heard people criticize Joe for not having much of a personality, but that means nothing to me. They all want their quarterbacks to be these guys with magnetic personalties and entertain everybody. I could care less about that. Joe may be a little quiet, but he's a fantastic quarterback."
Extra points: Monday marked the 29th year of Jaworski's celebrity-amateur tournament. All proceeds benefit the Jaws Youth Playbook (formerly the Jaws Youth Fund), which funds programs that improve the overall health and wellness of at-risk youths in South Jersey. The event also included a pairings party at Harrah's on Sunday night. More than 70 celebrities participated, including Flacco, Erving, Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller and Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. ... Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, an avid golfer, could not participate because the Eagles held an OTA workout Monday at the NovaCare Complex. ... Wie played a few holes with a half-dozen groups.
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