The call still rings fresh in my mind:
"Ryan, from under center. Single receiver set, to either side. Ryan, gonna throw! First professional pass! CAUGHT! Jenkins! 30! 25! 20! 15! 10! 5! He lives in Atlanta! His first professional pass is a 62 yard strike to Michael Jenkins!!"
Wes Durham's call of Matt Ryan's first professional pass is probably my favorite moment in this era of Falcons history. And it was the very first memory of many.
Most of us have been here since Matt Ryan's very first memory, and we've watched him grow into something that is not only respected around the most skilled football players in the league, but in some cases, feared by them.
However, he has grown up in the shadow of former Falcons QB Michael Vick, who left nothing but a wake of destruction and a tainted legacy in his dogfighting scandal. Fresh out of college, Matt was asked to do something that, for what it's worth, has never been done: save a wounded, disgraced franchise from the depths of NFL hell.
Not only has Matt saved this team, but he rose up above and beyond our expectations. However, there are still some Falcons historians who look back and call Bartkowski the greatest Falcons QB. Some even turn to Vick, who had some playoff success.
Not anymore, my friends.
Take the jump with me.
I'm not a stat guy. I never have been, so in the annals of history, Matt may not have the stats to back up his claim. He may not have the playoff wins, or even the general success of some Vick-lead teams.
But look at him. Look at what he's given us. He's given us hope.
One reader (Don't remember the name, sorry! Feel free to claim yourself on here, though) echoed my thoughts about the Vick era. Whenever Vick dropped back, it was a heart attack. Every. Single. Time. It was either a stupidly successful play or a dud. Dink and dunk was a no-go with that group.
Fast forward to now. When Matt drops back, I expect him to complete the pass, however near or far it might be. I have that much faith in him to do it. When have we ever had a QB like that? Vick? No. Harrington? No. Leftwich? No. Redman (Pre-Matty)? Not really.
The only QB that might've warranted that much faith in our history was Bartkowski. But, for lack of a team around him most of the time, Bartkowski's best days were often wasted.
And here we are, with Matt Ryan at the helm. He's given us plenty to cheer about in his short time here. I bring up the '08 Bears and '10 Ravens games as examples, but there's plenty more. What's better is that he does whatever is asked of him. 42 passes in one half? No problem. Scrambling for first downs? No problem. Well, not much of a problem.
Think about Matt now in comparison to his rookie year. He's in complete control of the offense now. He even took it upon himself to bring in Julio Jones for some practice during the lockout, allowing Julio to develop some chemistry with him early and often, and it has shown even in the limited time we've seen the duo on the field together.
In 2009, Matt had turf toe for at least a third of the season. Remember that? Turf toe isn't fun - it's quite painful, too, and yet Matt only missed two games, opting to play through it the last few games, including the game against the Jets where a collective effort helped pave the way to break the 44 year curse, a curse that no other Falcons QB had been able to defeat.
While his playoff record may not indicate it, Matt Ryan has brought this team to a level the likes of which haven't been experienced by the fanbase: perennial contender. We're not a flashy, running-QB smoke-and-mirrors team anymore. We're lead by a defense-destroying, pass-slinging young man who improves in any way we can and has brought the Falcons from the bottom to the top. We're winning on a yearly basis now, something Falcons fans haven't had the pleasure of enjoying EVER.
The best part about this is that Matt is only going to get better. He's just now on the cusp of his prime, and he could still be better! He has great receivers around him, a scrappy OL that does their best to protect him, and a defense that could bring the pain this year.
Soon, the playoff chains will be released. Matty is too good to be held back by those demons for long. He has the skill and now he has the weapons to make it happen, and when we need Matty the most, he's almost always answered the call. Even in the worst of situations, Matt makes it happen.
I understand the ups-and-downs from this preseason. I really do. I'm guilty of feeling some of those ups-and-downs too. But I also know that no matter how down this team gets, they are never out. The reason why?
We have Matt Ryan, and when all is said and done this year, there will be no more doubt anywhere: Matt Ryan will be the greatest QB this franchise has ever had.