In last Sunday’s AFC Championship matchup against the Patriots, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco showed he could toss a football, throwing for 240 yards and three touchdowns. But how is he at math? To find out, Bill Littlefield spoke with Mike Tanier, who is currently a staff writer for Sports on Earth.
Before becoming a full-time sports writer, Tanier taught calculus at Audubon High School in New Jersey. One of his former students could do more than derive and integrate equations — Joe Flacco had a pretty good arm, too.
BL: How did he do at Audubon High?
MT: He was an exceptional student. There’s a stereotype of the jocks and the football players and it’s like “Welcome Back, Kotter.” And not only is Joe Flacco obviously not like that, but it is not like that in most schools. I think that speaks to the individuals and themselves and to what football is, both physically and mentally.
BL: Well obviously the next question for a math teacher turned sportswriter is do gamblers with access to Joe Flacco’s calculus grades have an edge?
MT: I like to say that I taught Joe Flacco everything he knows about derivatives. But the problem is how much of that actually translates to the football field. And if I tell you Joe Flacco got an ‘A’ nine or 10 years ago, I don’t think that moves the point spread. And if it does then we have more power than we thought we had.
BL: I assume that you have spoken with Joe Flacco in your capacity as a pain-in-the-neck sportswriter. Does he remember you fondly?
MT: It’s funny that I’ve almost never had any opportunities to do this professionally where I’ve never been covering him specifically. The times that I’ve spoken to him since high school were times that we would see each other at various social functions in the community and he would sit down and joke around with me a little bit, and we’d talk a little football, but I wasn’t the kind of guy who was gonna corner him and demand some inside information. Part of that was…I knew his family. I was teaching his brothers and his sister as well, and you want to maintain that relationship. So I will be seeing him next weekend. I’ll stop and talk to him. If he gives me the, ‘I have no idea who you are,’ I have a funny feeling he’ll be playing with me.
BL: Well, also it’s never too late to go back and change his grade.
MT: That’s true. And if I do it now it will go through Deadspin and things like that and you know we can manufacture a scandal about it in the name of self-promotion. And, gosh, isn’t that the bottom line these days? What I tell people, as a teacher, I root for all of my students. I root for them to succeed, I root for them to excel as nurses, as doctors, as people, as parents, and as community members. And of course I root for them as quarterback as well, and that just happens to be something that is more exciting and more attention grabbing, and I’m thrilled at what he’s been able to accomplish.
BL: As usual, the Ravens will go into the game as underdogs. Do you like their chances against the 49ers?
MT: They’re facing a better team overall, top to bottom, at all of the positions. If you look at pure match-ups you do have to go with the 49ers.
BL: Something has occurred to me vis-à-vis your professions. Do you find it ironic that you, a former calculus teacher, who must still be pretty handy with a slide rule, I would assume, have written about a quarterback who himself occasionally has to take advantage of the NFL’s slide rule?
MT: That would work if I had any idea how to use a slide rule. I do actually own one.
BL: Yeah, that’s right. They’re obsolete now, aren’t they?
MT: They’re obsolete. I kind of play with it and try to wonder how that was done which means probably that Joe Flacco does not know how to do them but he does know how to slide when he has to come to the end of a scramble. Unlike Tom Brady he doesn’t kick anybody at the end though.