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Closson: An ode to the Blake Griffin’s and Joe Flacco’s of my best sports memories

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Closson: An ode to the Blake Griffin’s and Joe Flacco’s of my best sports memories

Blake Griffin and Joe Flacco (right) a few years ago. Neither athlete still wears the same uniform he did back then, but that hasn’t stopped this writer’s love for the two superstars.

Blake Griffin and Joe Flacco (right) a few years ago. Neither athlete still wears the same uniform he did back then, but that hasn’t stopped this writer’s love for the two superstars.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS) / (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Blake Griffin and Joe Flacco (right) a few years ago. Neither athlete still wears the same uniform he did back then, but that hasn’t stopped this writer’s love for the two superstars.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS) / (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS) / (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Blake Griffin and Joe Flacco (right) a few years ago. Neither athlete still wears the same uniform he did back then, but that hasn’t stopped this writer’s love for the two superstars.

Troy Closson, Op-Ed Contributor

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It was less than 24 hours before Valentine’s Day. For so many others, it’s a time spent checking up on restaurant reservations, deciding between milk and dark chocolate and buying last-minute cards.

But not for me.

I was coping with a freshly broken heart.

On Feb. 13, news hit that the Baltimore Ravens were sitting on an agreement to trade former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos. I hopped on Twitter and the disrespect flew off my phone screen. The most disappointing was the obnoxious excitement some Baltimore fans even expressed at the close of the Flacco era.

But love him or hate him, when he was hot, the New Jersey native was among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. In 11 seasons, he took the Ravens to the postseason six times, played in three conference championship games and broke nearly every record held by previous franchise ball-throwers.

After Flacco’s injury last year, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson successfully took the helm mid-season and I knew the 34-year-old’s time was running short. When he didn’t yank the young buck after an abysmal start to his first NFL playoff game against the Chargers, Ravens coach John Harbaugh all but confirmed my fears.

“Joe Flacco is going to play really well in this league,” Harbaugh told reporters in January. “I’ll be in Joe’s corner, wherever he’s at, unless we play him.”

The Ravens and Broncos won’t cross paths next regular season, so for now, that won’t be a problem for Harbaugh. I’m glad; it doesn’t have to be one for me either.

When it comes down to it, I won’t be able to root against Joe — even if he plays my hometown team. Because for me, when I think about the sports moments that’ll stick with me forever, they’ve always been about the athletes who made them happen. Teams come second.

When a third-quarter power outage almost let the San Francisco 49ers steal away a Super Bowl, I was disappointed for the Ravens. But I was pissed — and backed all the conspiracy theories — because the “electrical abnormalities” nearly jeopardized Joe Flacco’s title as the game’s MVP. A few months prior, I watched Destinee Hooker everyday as she led her team to a heartbreaking silver medal at the Summer Olympics in London; four years later, she wasn’t on the team and I was barely interested in volleyball. Ashton Eaton breaking records, that time Joey Rodriguez’s underdogs made the Final Four, whenever Maya Moore does anything — I could go on, but that’s not the point of this.

Blake Griffin is.

Because like the NFL and Joe Flacco, I’ve always rooted for whatever NBA team is on Blake Griffin’s jersey.

All of my best childhood moments were spent watching the Washington Wizards ball at the Verizon Center. But after Griffin’s theatrics during the 2011 Dunk Contest, the Los Angeles Clippers became my favorite team.

Well, up until the team fell back on all the commitments and plans they’d made to the six-time All-Star and traded him out of the blue to the Pistons. Now, I’ve watched more Detroit than Wizards games this season and completely checked out of the Clippers fandom.

On the outside, I’m sure it seems random when I root for the Pistons more than any other team — and I’m sure it’ll be the same when I inevitably follow the Broncos come August.

And this isn’t to say some of my favorite athletes aren’t completely random. Can’t tell you why I traded for Sam Dekker, Arron Afflalo and Thabo Sefolosha every time I made my own dream roster in 2K. But most of them make sense.

Seeing Joe bring a ring back to my hometown meant the world to high-school-freshman me. Coming into 9th grade, I was nervous. Volleyball was one of the few sports spanning the Games’ full two and half weeks and I watched Destinee spike all over the field every day to forget about all of that. I went to cross country summer runs every morning in high school because Ashton inspired me, Joey taught me projections are only good on paper and, well, Maya’s just the best.

The story about Blake?

When I was growing up, my uncle was literally my best friend. He used to do stand-up comedy and even without it, I thought he was the funniest guy in the world. When he moved to Los Angeles while I was in middle school, I was crushed since I knew I’d basically never see him. Well, one not-so random week in the middle of the winter, he surprised all of us and came back to Maryland for a while. He planned his visit for mid-February, same time as All-Star Weekend in the NBA — which we’d watched together basically every other year. And that one, we watched the dunk contest together.

I lost my mind after watching Blake dunk over a car. Really though, I lost my mind because my uncle was sitting next to me while we watched it.

Ever since, probably by no coincidence, Blake’s been my favorite athlete in the world along with Joe.

Ultimately, the backlash on Twitter from Broncos fans when Flacco was traded wasn’t surprising; He’s always been a substance-over-flash playmaker — basically just an ordinary guy off the field. Even as Griffin’s become a reliable shooter from behind the arc, there will always be questions about his range and shot mechanics from people who can’t get past the image of him jumping over the hood of a Kia.

But none of that matters to me.

Sports have always been about the moments and the athletes who made them mean something for me, and Joe and Blake are part of more memories than I can count.

Troy Closson is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at closson@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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