November 14, 2007

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

Stand Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan next to Tom Brady and some will wonder why the Patriots are letting a fan get so close to its star quarterback. Ask the average Bostonian who the Eagles are playing on Saturday and watch the blank stares, an ignorance in stark contrast to the Rain Man-like accuracy with which most New Englanders can recite the Red Sox 162-game schedule.

Ryan is the anonymous quarterback playing on an anonymous team in a region that prides itself on its colleges but pays little attention to their sports -- at least when there is a professional alternative. If Matt Ryan were playing in Gainesville, Fla., or Eugene, Ore., there would be national clamor to see his name etched on the Heisman Trophy, not just a locally based blog pleading for support for the man known as Matty Ice.

Consider his numbers: The senior is the ACC leader in total offense and ranks nationally ahead of the uber-hyped Tim Tebow or Dennis Dixon. He has a knack for performing when the pressure is hottest, unless you call orchestrating a furious comeback to beat Virginia Tech after trailing by double digits with three minutes to go (in conditions that would have sent Noah running to Home Depot) a low stress situation.

He is a survivor by nature, which is why, much like his professional counterpart in New England, his team is never out of it. It's a quality he may have acquired as a teenager, when his Jetta was rear-ended and shoved into the path of a military truck. The accident left Ryan with a broken ankle and the collateral damage nearly ended his football career. His older brother, Michael, then a freshman quarterback at Division III Widener, shattered his throwing elbow in the accident. It ended his football career and had the younger Ryan questioning his.

But the primary reason Matt Ryan has my vote for Sportsman of the Year is that he has almost single-handedly turned a tiny Jesuit university (undergraduate enrollment: 9,019) in eastern Massachusetts into a football presence again. In the past, BC was considered a nice story. The Immaculate Reception in '84. David Gordon's fateful boot to upset top-ranked Notre Dame in '93. As it stands today, Boston College lost its chance of playing for a national title after a defeat loss to Maryland on Nov. 10. But Ryan gave hope to ending an epic drought. Though Boston College purports to have won a share of the 1940 national championship by virtue of an undefeated record and a Sugar Bowl victory, the NCAA does not recognize such a feat. The football program can be traced back to 1884 (or 17 years before the Boston Americans played their first game) and played its first official game in 1893, but it can't actually claim a national title. That's 113 years without a title.

So don't think of him as Matt Ryan, college quarterback. Think of him as Matt Ryan, a college quarterback trying to lead his team over a centuries old hump.

Is he a more worthy candidate now?

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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