Heavy math: Sports on Earth NFL writer was Joe Flacco’s high school calculus teacher

Mike Tanier is different than any other NFL writer covering the playoffs for two reasons

A. Tanier is the only sportswriter who was Joe Flacco’s high school calculus teacher.

B. Tanier likely is the only sportswriter who understands calculus.

“Wait a minute, you know calculus?” I said about a subject that still gives me the shakes 35 years after graduating high school.

Tanier, who covers the NFL for the new Sports on Earth site, definitely has a unique story and a unique perspective on this year’s playoffs.

It didn’t begin for Tanier in the conventional way. Instead of getting a position in journalism after graduating college, he became a teacher at Audubon (N.J.) High School, outside of Philadelphia. It was a job he held for 17 years, as he moonlighted on the side as a football writer.

Besides Flacco, Tanier also taught future Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. He had the foundation of a nice backfield in his classes.

The Baltimore Ravens quarterback took calculus from Tanier during 2001-02 school year. “For some reason, I taught the lowest levels of math and the highest levels of math,” Tanier said.

OK, where did Flacco fall, said, fearing the worst.

“He was in the highest level,” Tanier said. “He was a really smart kid. There were 4 or 5 of his teammates in his class.” Also in his class was Flacco’s future wife.

Tanier described Flacco as “quiet, dedicated, and very serious.” Still, he showed his quarterback qualities in class.

“When we had a group project, he took on the leadership position,” Tanier said.

As a football player at Audubon, Tanier recalled Flacco as an gifted athlete playing with a lot of not-so-gifted athletes. He said Flacco was throwing to a bunch of 5-10, 160-pound kids and “none of them were named Danny Amendola.”

Flacco eventually went on to fame at Delaware and then with the Ravens. Tanier didn’t expect their lives to intersect again, but they did.

Tanier, 41, always had a passion for sportswriting. When blogs started to exploded in the early 2000s, he started writing for the Football Outsiders. “I think they liked that I was able to use my math knowledge and apply it to football,” he said.

Tanier, though, wasn’t just a bland math geek (not to stereotype or anything). He took an offbeat approach to his posts. His bio on Sports on Earth includes this line: “He strives to write game capsules for people who hate game capsules: funny, offbeat, informative and as cliché-free as possible.”

Tanier began to contribute NFL capsules to the New York Times in 2009. Yet he still kept his day job as a teacher.

Eventually, though, he hit a crossroads. In 2011, he walked away from teaching.

“The reality hit that if the New York Times was putting my work in the Sunday paper, maybe I should pursue this professionally,” Tanier said. “It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do. I had tenure and I was well regarded as a teacher. I’m flabbergasted about how it turned out. There’s a million ways that this wouldn’t have happened.”

This year, Sports on Earth called. Now the former teacher has byline on the same home page as Joe Posnanski, Leigh Montville, Dave Kindred, Shaun Powell, Gwenn Knapp, among others.

This week, Tanier did a column on Flacco in advance of this week’s AFC title game. From reading it, you wouldn’t know that Tanier has a personal connection to the quarterback. He says he has criticized Flacco in the past and will in the future if events warrant.

Yet Tanier admits he isn’t completely objective when it comes to Flacco. He wants his former student to finally reach the Super Bowl.

“I absolutely root for him,” Tanier said. “I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m an Eagles fan. If they’re out of it, then I’m a Ravens fan.. This is a kid I used to see fool around with his buddies before class. It’s like any teacher. You want your former students to do well.










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