ATLANTA — For a town whose newest sporting hero goes by the nickname of Matty Ice, you’d think these people here would know how to drive on the slippery stuff.
Not a chance.
On the streets outside the Georgia Dome, the climate-controlled, comfy home of Matt Ryan’s Atlanta Falcons, there is still lingering chaos from the rare snowstorm that paralysed this city earlier this week.
Just a short punt from the stadium, some yahoo in a pickup truck figures the harder he slams the gas pedal, the quicker his rig will get off the patch of ice it is stuck on.
It’s not working. We could have told him that.
Judging by the guy’s ensuing tirade of colourful language on this frosty Friday afternoon, he doesn’t like road ice.
Judging by the No. 2 Falcons jersey on his back, he much prefers Matty Ice.
He’s not alone.
It’s remarkable, really, to see the impact that Matt (Matty Ice) Ryan has had on this community, which found itself embarrassed during the Michael Vick scandal.
It wasn’t all that long ago when Vick owned this town. In a region where the baseball Braves visited the post-season pretty much on a yearly basis and where the most popular football was played by the Georgia Bulldogs, Vick’s theatrics and heroics put the Falcons back on the sporting map for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 1998.
Then came the Vick dog-fighting brouhaha. And all that changed.
The summer of 2007 was a mess for the Falcons franchise. After Vick plead guilty to federal charges, Falcons owner Arthur Blank demanded the shamed quarterback reimburse almost $20 million US of his signing bonus, a request an arbitrator agreed with.
The 2007 was a black hole of quarterbacking for the Falcons. Joey Harrington. Byron Leftwich. Chris Redman. By the end of the season, the most common question heard around Atlanta was: “When does spring training start?”
For Blank, his franchise once again was a mere irrelevant blip on the local sporting radar.
All that changed during the 2008 draft when the Falcons plucked a young quarterback out of Boston College named Matt Ryan.
Ryan was the anti-Vick. He wasn’t flamboyant. He wasn’t controversial. He didn’t produce spectacular scrambles for huge chunks of yardage, nor did he possess a rocket arm that at times appeared as if it could drill a football right through the Georgia Dome roof.
Matt Ryan wasn’t any of that.
What he was, was a natural-born leader.
If Michael Vick was the Hollywood star gone amok, Matt Ryan was the boy next door. For Blank, he was the perfect role model for a franchise in desperate need of one, so much so that the owner told reporters this week he was “thrilled” to have Ryan under centre.
More importantly, Ryan is unflappable out on the field, a guy who retains his composure while all those around him are losing theirs. He had that characteristic for so long, his high school buddies gave him the nickname “Matty Ice.”
In his first season in the NFL, Ryan led the Falcons to the playoffs, where they lost to the Arizona Cardinals in a game in which his first pass was picked off.
Now, after leading the Falcons to an amazing 13 comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime, Matt Ryan is back in the post-season, leading his Falcons against the Green Bay Packers Saturday at the Georgia Dome. The same Packers, by the way, he beat 20-17 on Nov. 28 after leading his team to the game-winning field goal.
“In the back of my head, I know I’m better prepared than I was a couple of years ago,” Ryan said, adding “the playoffs are not easy to get to.”
Heading into the game, all the talk has been about Aaron Rodgers, the hotter national story.
Matty Ice doesn’t care. That’s not what he’s all about.
After losing just two home games in three season, Matty Ice is about winning. Period.
Little wonder the Falcons have regained respectability again.