By Matthew Asher
There’s no argument that it’s been a disappointing year for the Atlanta Falcons. Last year they had the best record in the league and were one scoring drive shy of reaching the Super Bowl. This season it seems like every week they find a new way to lose another close game.
Recently the local sports radio talk shows have been flooded with an abundance of callers claiming that Matt Ryan isn’t the quarterback who can take Atlanta to the “next level” which most of them translate to mean winning the Super Bowl, not just playing in it.
It’s true that Ryan has yet to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl. But for all of those people, meet Falcons fan Jill Perez, and how her experience meeting Matt Ryan as a rookie has her believing that Matty Ice is the perfect player to lead the Falcons. Even in this rough season, Jill has gone to every home game and cheered regardless of the outcome. “Of course when they’re 13-3 I’m a Falcons fan,” Jill said. “But I’m still one when they’re 1-15.” She represents a side of the ATL fanbase whose voice has not been heard much as the 2013 season.
Jill’s family, including her son Allen and her parents Gary and Yong Hui Yunker, have always rooted for the Atlanta Falcons. Jill has been a season ticket holder for the past 10 seasons. But her loyalty to the Falcons doesn’t end there. When Allen had his 7th birthday party, instead of having a clown of magician come, Jill was able to get the real Freddie Falcon to make an appearance. This is someone who takes her Falcons seriously.
Meeting Matty Ice
It was in 2008, just after the Falcons has drafted Matt Ryan that Jill attended the annual “Roam the Dome” event for season ticket holders. One of the bonuses of this event was that several Falcons would be attending and she’d be able to get an autograph from one of them. She was told there would be random autograph signings with some of the players. Much like a lottery, when you arrived at an entrance portal, you had gotten a number with the designated player.
Jill simple received a note with the number 1 printed on it. No name or any indication of which player that would be. It turned out that #1 translated into the #2 jersey wearer and the #3 player drafted in 2008. “I’m standing in line and everyone’s asking to trade for me,” Perez said. “I still didn’t know which player I had picked but I told them ‘Get your own ticket’. As I get closer I see it’s Ryan and my first thought was ‘That’s the new face of this franchise!’” Jill was able to get a picture taken with him and an autograph which she now proudly displays inside her house.
Jill was only able to meet with Ryan quickly, but she was glad about the decision to draft him and quickly picked up her own Matt Ryan jersey. “I think that was a turning point for our franchise,” Jill said. “Having been kicked down so long by fans and the media disrespect. Atlanta is a transient city: everyone’s from somewhere else.”
But it was more than Ryan’s football abilities that impressed Jill. “I knew he was talented. But more important than that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about: Michael Vick.” It was Vick’s incarceration for dog fighting in 2007 that indirectly led to the Falcons drafting Ryan. Vick was supposed to be the starter in 2007, but because the NFL suspended him, Atlanta had to use their backup and finished with a 4-12 record, giving them the number 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
It was a rough couple of years for Atlanta during that time. “I felt like our team was lost. We had no real leadership,” Jill said. “But from Day 1 since Ryan was drafted, he’s been nothing but a leader. He’s been a leader on the field, in the locker room and in the community. He leads by example. He’s the definition of a role model.”
Rejuvenating the Franchise and Setting New Standards
It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Ryan’s play has been some of the best in team history. Before Ryan played for Atlanta, the Falcons never had consecutive winning season. Ryan led them to five straight winning seasons. Atlanta hadn’t been to the NFL Playoffs in consecutive years until Ryan took the Falcons to three straight years and four out of his first five seasons. Including this disastrous season, Ryan has 60 regular season wins and just 33 losses. That’s right, even with this season, Ryan has averaged 10 wins a season. If you focus on just the first five seasons, Ryan was 56-22, more than 11 wins a season.
Even with Atlanta have a difficult year this season, Jill’s loyalty hasn’t swayed. “I’m proud to say that Matt Ryan’s my quarterback. There’s a sense of pride when you can lay claim to that.”
Riskier Plays for Bigger Rewards
One of the criticisms this season of Ryan was he would occasionally make an ill-advised pass, hoping for a high-risk/high-reward payoff that didn’t happen. Perez doesn’t believe that necessarily a bad thing that Ryan tries plays like that. “Lots of people are quick to dog him. They’ll get on his case if he throws a long pass that gets intercepted as opposed to threading the needle in between a few receivers. He’s a hustler. He has passion.”
Anyone who remembers the Falcons 30-28 win last season against the Panthers knows what Jill means when she says passion. As soon as kicker Matt Bryant kicked the game winning field goal, you could see Ryan on the sideline screaming at the Panthers team to “Get the **** off MY field.” The fact that Ryan took ownership of the Dome impressed Jill. “I feel like he takes this seriously. He’s not just punching a clock and collecting a paycheck.”
So while the bandwagon Falcons fans may be quick to snap at Ryan and his issues in the playoffs, the real question becomes what kind of man do you want as your signal caller? Is it someone you’d let your daughter date and your son hang out with or do you want someone who is unpredictable and may win a Super Bowl, but could crash and burn just as easily? Getting rid of Ryan would be a disastrous move for the franchise. #RiseUp
For more Falcons news and updates, visit Falcons Central.
Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.