In 2008, Atlanta sports fans got a taste of football’s newest flavor: Matty Ice. Matt Ryan’s melt-in-your-mouth personality and sugary-sweet passing all but erased the sour taste left by the disappointment of Michael Vick. Matt looks, thinks, acts and talks like a championship quarterback. More important, he plays like one. The Falcons have given their fans 40-plus years of thrills and spills—and even a sniff of the Super Bowl. But in Matt they may just have that elusive star with both the skill and leadership qualities to finally win the big game. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Matthew Thomas Ryan was born on May 17, 1985 in Exton, Pennsylvania. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) He was the third of four children born to Bernice and Michael Ryan. There were good athletes on both sides of Matt’s family. His mother’s brother, John Loughery, was the starting quarterback for Boston College as a sophomore in 1980.

Matt was a good athlete and a big sports fan. He rooted for Philadelphia teams. Football was one of his first loves. On the Eagles, he was drawn to quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb.

Matt was not a quarterback in his Pop Warner days. Although he had a strong, accurate arm, he was mostly used as a tight end and safety. He didn’t have particularly good foot speed, but he could read where a play was going in an instant. This skill ultimately made Matt a natural as a quarterback. He began to blossom as a passer before he reached his freshman year of high school.

Matt attended the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. He started there as a little boy and continued until his high school graduation. Rated among the top academic schools in the country, Penn Charter had also produced its share of top athletes over the years. That list included soccer stars Bobby Convey and Chris Albright, NFL quarterback Browning Nagle, NBA guard Sean Singletary and baseball players Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mark Gubicza. John Kelly—an Olympic skater and brother of Grace Kelly—also graduated from the school.

Matt played football, baseball and basketball for the Quakers. During the 2002–03 school year, he was named captain of all three teams. He was a shooting forward on the basketball team. He pitched and played shortstop for the baseball team.

Penn Charter’s rivalry with Germantown is one of the oldest in American football. It dates back to the 1880s, and the two schools have played more times than Army–Navy and Harvard–Yale. Matt got to experience this rivalry up close and personal four years in a row. Coach Brian McCloskey named him the varsity’s starting quarterback as a freshman in 1999, and Matt never let go of the job. Midway through Matt’s first year, McCloskey began letting him call his own audibles.

Matt came into his own as a junior. That year, he was named was Second Team All-City. As a senior, he was First Team. Matt was an All-League choice three strating seasons beginning in 2000. In his final campaign, Matt threw for more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. He completed more than 50 percent or more of his passes every year.

Matt was recruited by schools throughout the Northeast. Having an uncle who quarterbacked Boston College predisposed him to the Eagles. When coach Tom O’Brien offered him a scholarship, his decision was an easy one. Things began to break his way almost immediately. In the fall of 2003, he met Sarah Marshall, a player on BCs women‘s basketball team. They would date for seven years before announcing their engagement during the 2010 football season.

Matt red-shirted the 2003 season and was slated to be the third-string quarterback in 2004, BC’s final year of competition in the Big East Conference. But his fine play drew the attention of the coaching staff. When starter Quinton Porter (who red-shirted his would-be senior season) got hurt, Matt was elevated to the backup role in his first year on the active roster.

Matt saw his first game action against UMass in October of ’04, connecting on two of three pass attempts. He tossed his first touchdown in a November game against Temple. One week later, replacing injured starter Paul Peterson, Matt made his first collegiate start in the last game of the season, against Syracuse. He threw for 200 yards on 24-for-51 passing in a loss to the Orangemen.

The Eagles finished 8–3, good enough for an invitation to the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. Matched against UNC, a future Atlantic Coast Conference rival, they won 37–24. Peterson was back in the lineup and took home MVP honors. Matt saw a few downs of action, completing one pass for 13 yards. In the year’s final polls, BC was ranked #21 nationally.

ON THE RISE

With Peterson graduated and Porter healthy, Matt was looking at another year as BC’s backup in 2005. The Eagles were now members of the ACC, and Matt watched and learned as Porter led the team to several impressive victories, including a great performance against Virginia. BC began to struggle, however. In losses to Virginia Tech and UNC, Porter could not get the offense going. Looking for a jolt, O’Brien turned to Matt as the team’s quarterback in the final four starts of the season. He responded by leading the team to a first-place tie in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.



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Chris Albirght, 2000 Soccer America

     
 

The Eagles again finished 8–3. They played Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl. Matt engineered an impressive 27–21 victory over the high-scoring Broncos. He completed 19 of 36 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns and was named MVP of the game.

The starting job was all Matt’s in 2006, and despite spraining his ankle in the opener—and breaking his foot late in the year—he turned in a season that garnered First Team All-ACC recognition. Overall, he completed 243 of 398 passes for 2,700 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ran in another three scores himself.

Matt gained a reputation as a tough-as-nails leader who never gave up. Twice, he led the Eagles to exciting double-overtime wins, over Clemson and Brigham Young. In the BYU game, he passed for a season-high 356 yards.

The Eagles went 9–3 and received another bowl invite to Charlotte. Matt played a solid game, guiding BC to a 25–24 win over Navy. The real star of the game was linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. He scooped up three Midshipmen fumbles and returned tow for touchdowns. The victory gave Boston College a Top 20 ranking for the first time since the Doug Flutie era.

O’Brien was not on the sidelines to relish this victory. He had already announced that he intended to leave BC and take a job with another ACC school, the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Although Matt got along with O’Brien, he sometimes felt stifled by the team’s short-passing offense. No one was happier than Matt when the Eagles announced that their new head man would be Jeff Jagodzinski, the Offensive Coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. Matt pictured himself rifling balls all over the field—and he wasn’t far off. “Jags” was all for unleashing his talented senior in a brand new, high-flying passing game.

Matt thrived in his new offensive scheme. Before the season was a month old, he had a pair of 400-yard games under his belt, Jaodzinski was talking him up as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Eagles were on their way to a #2 national ranking.

Matt was amazing. On a miserable October day against tough Virginia Tech, he stunned the Hokies with a pair of touchdown passes in the final three minutes to cap off a dramatic comeback victory. After making the score 10–7 on a 92-yard drive, he got the ball back after a successful on-side kick and engineered a 66-yard scoring drive that ended with a 32-yard pass to Andre Callender. Several times on the final two possesions, Matt came precariously close to being sacked, but he kept his cool, twisted away from trouble and got the job done.

Unfortunately, the Heisman would slip away. Matt had a rough day against Florida State, throwing three picks in a 27–17 defeat. Interceptions, in fact, were a problem for Matt all year. He had 19—second-most among Division I quarterbacks. But Matt redeemed himself against Clemson, engineering a late touchdown drive to tie the score 10–10. A turnover by the Tigers then gave the Eagles another opening. They went on to a 13–10 win and a berth in the ACC Championship.

With a 10–1 record, BC still had a shot at the BCS Championship. The Eagles needed a victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game to keep their hopes alive. Matt got Boston College out to an early lead, but he could do little against the VT defense in the second half. Late in the game, he threw an interception that Xavier Adibi returned for a touchdown to slam the door on a 30–16 loss.

In Matt’s final college game, BC faced Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl in Miami. He led the Eagles to a 24–21 win. After the season, Matt was named the ACC Player of the Year and received the Manning Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s best passer. He was named First Team All-ACC for the second year in a row.


Matt Ryan, autographed insert
     
 

In four college seasons—two as a starter—Matt amassed 4,507 passing yards. His 32 touchdowns broke Flutie’s career record for TDs. Perhaps most impressive, in Matt’s 32 starts, the Eagles went 27–5.

That spring, Matt was rated the top passer in the NFL draft. The Falcons, picking third overall, were dealing with the fallout from the dog-fighting scandal involving their start quarterback, Michael Vick. It was clear to most observers that Altanta would need a new signal caller. The team grabbed Matt.

Matt signed quickly, inking a six-year deal worth $72 million—about half of that guaranteed. It made him the fourth highest paid quarterback in the league, behind Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. Some pointed to this deal and claimed it was a good argument for a salary cap, but Matt was an extraordinary player stepping into an extraordinary team situation.

Matt arrived in training camp to find himself in competition with Matt Redman, the record-setting Louisville quarterback who had finished 2007 as the Falcons’ starter. Matt was named the opening day starter by first-year coach Mike Smith at the end of August.

Matt’s first official pass as a pro was a 62-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins. The Falcons held their lead and beat the Detroit Lions, 34–21. After a Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 38–14. Matt connected with Roddy White on a 70-yard scoring strike in the victory.

Matt engineered his first game-winning drive against the Chicago Bears in Week 6, setting up a field goal that turned a 20–19 deficit into a 22–20 win with no time remaining. Atlanta's record at that point stood at 4–2. Matt was named Rookie of the Month for October.

November proved to be an even better for month. The Falcons won four of five games, including a 24–0 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders. Matt was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. In early December, he surpassed 3,000 yards through the air. The last rookie to do so was Peyton Manning. With Matt at the helm, Atlanta closed out the schedule with three straight victories to finish 11–5.

The Falcons’ seven-win improvement over the previous year was good for second place in the NFC South and the #5 seed in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team ran into Kurt Warner and the red-hot Cardinals in its Wild Card Game. Matt got Atlanta a 17–14 halftime lead on a short TD pass to Justin Peelle, but the second half was all Arizona. Still, the Falcons had a chance down four points in the fourth quarter, but Matt was sacked in the end zone for a safety. The Cardinals held on for a 30–24 victory. Matt’s rookie-record—26 completions in a playoff game—were small consolation for the defeat.


Doug Flutie, 1984 Topps USFL
     
 

Despite the season’s disappointing end, Matt had a lot to be proud of. His rookie numbers would be the envy of any All-Pro. He completed 265 of 434 attempts for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns, against just 11 interceptions. Matt ran a balanced attack that saw running back Michael Turner rack up 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. White, Jenkins and Jerious Norwood each reeled in 35 or more passes, with White leading the receiving corps with 88 catches. Matt was named 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year, edging Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.

Matt began 2009 as one of Atlanta’s offensive co-captains, along with center Todd McClure. The Falcons picked up solid wins in four of their first five games. In Week 4, Matt produced a 329-yard passing performance against the San Francisco 49ers, including a 90-yard bomb to White. However, after their strong start, the Falcons struggled to find the consistency of the previous year. They lost six of eight mid-season contests, including frustrating defeats at the hands of the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. The loss to their division rival was particularly bad. Matt missed the game with a case of turf toe, and Turner was also hurt. The game was decided by a fourth-quarter field goal.

Atlanta salvaged its season with wins over the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Bucs to finish 9–7. Although the Falcons missed the playoffs, it marked the first time in team history that they had consecutive winning seasons.

Matt put together another strong season. He threw for 2,916 yards and upped his touchdown passes to 24. On the negative side, his interceptions climbed as well, to 16.

In the meat grinder known as the NFL, Matt was criticized by many for his “down” year. Unduanted, he prepared to lead his team to a third straight winning season in 2010. Sharing the NFC South with the Saints and resurgent Buccaneers, there was little room for error. A couple of losses could turn the entire division upside down. Matt avoided mistakes and gasped victories from the jaws of defeat in rousing wins over the Saints, 49ers, Bucs, Packers and Baltimore Ravens. All were dramatic comebacks, including a crucial OT win against New Orleans.

Besides an opening day loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime, the Falcons were practically unbeatable. A loss to the Philaldephia Eagles was their only other blemish after 12 games. Atlanta’s 10–2 record gave the team a slim lead in the division and an excellent shot at a return to postseason play. Two more wins salted away a playoff spot.

With a blowout win over the Panthers on the season’s last Sunday, the Falcons secured first place in the NFC South and the top seed in th conference playoffs. Matt had another big day, adding to the best campaign of his young career. He finished the year with 3,705 yards through the air, 28 touchdowns and a 91.0 QB rating. More important, the Falcons had homefield advantage and a first-round bye, making them the favorite in the NFC to go to the Super Bowl.

The scary thing? Matt says he’s still learning every game. His teammates need no further convincing. Matty Ice is the guy they look to when the game hangs in the balance. Matt wouldn’t have it any other way.

MATT THE PLAYER


Matt Ryan, 2008 Topps
     
 

The qualities that made Matt an effective NFL passer from his first day in the league are the things that should help him stay among football’s elite passers for years to come. Few quarterbacks are more comfortable in the pocket. Matt sees the entire field. He can hit passes underneath, in the seams, along the sidelines and stretch the defense with the long ball. He doesn’t mind moving from side to side in the pocket while he waits for things to develop.

Matt’s patience and intelligence are matched by his toughness. He is not afraid to get buried by a pass rusher in order to make a throw. And he bounces right back up again. T’hats the kind of toughness a team responds to in a young leader.

Matt’s teammates love his work ethic and his flair for the dramatic. The Falcons never takes a play off when he is on the field, and they never feels a game is lost until the clock has run out. No one is calling him Captain Comeback quite yet, but Matt is well on the way to carving out a special career in the NFL.


Matt Ryan,
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