There’s an old sentence that heroes get remembered but legends never die.
Throughout the years at Boston College, there have been a number of heroes under center. In the years after Doug Flutie’s Heisman Trophy-winning performance, fans were treated to watching Glenn Foley, the fiery hot-head who paired perfectly with head coach Tom Coughlin. They saw the Hasselbeck family, with Matt transitioning to Tim. There was Brian St. Pierre, a guy who very quietly finished as one of the best passers in BC history.
In 2005, Boston College entered a new era in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Halfway through the year, a sophomore with a lively arm wrestled the starting quarterback job away from entrenched starter Quinton Porter. The kid’s name was Matt Ryan, the same kid who started the Syracuse game as a redshirt freshman at the end of the ‘04 season.
Three years later, his stats qualified him as one of the most memorable QBs in school history. He finished the ‘05 season with 1,500 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. The next year, as the full-time starter, he threw 15 touchdowns while amassing 2,900-plus yards.
But it was his senior year that made him go from hero to legend. He threw for 4,500 yards and 31 touchdowns. He won the Manning Award as the nation’s best quarterback, beating out Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and a supporting cast featuring Sam Bradford, Colt Brennan, and Chase Daniel. And he provided one of the signature moments in school history, a touchdown pass to Andre Callendar with time winding down against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on a rainy Thursday night.
At the end of the year, following what was yet another BC bowl victory, he became the highest draft pick in BC football history, going third overall to the Atlanta Falcons. Taken as the franchise QB, Atlanta entrusted Ryan with stewarding them into a new era, both on and off the field. Coming off of a 4-12 season, they needed direction following Michael Vick’s dogfighting conviction and Bobby Petrino’s resignation after just 13 games.
Hard to believe that was almost nine full years ago.
“It’s amazing how quickly that time goes,” said Ryan yesterday when he met with the media at Boston College. “I feel like just yesterday we were playing Miami, and it was my last game here, and we were coming up and celebrating a big win against them. First time we had beat them in a long time, and here we are basically nine years later, and I’m back here.”
Whenever a player’s jersey is retired, it invokes nostalgia. At a time like the summer, where college sports are entirely on hiatus and only baseball is in its season, it gives ample opportunity to reflect and remember just how special a player’s time can be.
“I think that football is, without question, the greatest team sport,” said Ryan to the media. “You are completely dependent on the guys next to you, the guys that you’re playing with...I’m very, very fortunate to have been here at the time that I was. I think they’re some of the best BC football teams that have been on campus, and some of the best BC football players that haveever been here. I think throughout my life I’ve been fortunate to benefit from great timing, and that was certainly the case with my teammates.”
For Ryan, the nostalgia went beyond his greatest on-field triumphs (and, when asked about it, the Florida State game that “got away”). “I think that our senior class, the class of 2007, I think Barry (Gallup) was telling me, was the largest fifth-year senior class that BC ever had,” said Ryan.
“These were guys that had been together for five years,” he continued. “We had worked out together. We had been here all summer together. We played XBox in the dorms together; we had done all kinds of things together.”
The day was stamped by Ryan being joined by teammates Jamie Silva and Gosder Cherilus. Cherilus, a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and himself a former first round pick, competes with Ryan in the NFC South while Silva played in 2009 with the Indianapolis Colts before suffering a knee injury at the beginning of the 2010 preseason.
“There is a bond and connection you have in college that in some ways you never replicate in the NFL,” said Ryan. “It just doesn’t happen. And you get close with a lot of your teammates, there’s no question, but there is so much turnover in the NFL that you just don’t have as much time with the same group of guys. So from that perspective, I think as I look back now at 31, it was unique. You don’t realize any different as you’re going through it, but it’s unique looking back on it.
“To me, playing against guys, and you get to see them on the field before and after the game, it’s really good,” he said. “It makes you reminisce about times that we were in this building and doing the things that we did and going to Roggies.”
Quotes provided by BC Athletics.