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Indianapolis Colts’ Matt Ryan evokes the legacies of Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning

Vincent Frank

New Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan has had a whirlwind past week or so. The longtime former Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowler figured to be returning to his original team for a 15th season at about this time last week.

That’s when Atlanta showed overt interest in trading for Houston Texans Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson. While the Falcons did discuss this situation with Ryan behind the scenes, it threw the former NFL MVP for a loop.

In being introduced as the Colts’ next quarterback on Tuesday following a trade from Atlanta, Ryan touched on what it means to be a member of the organization — specifically focusing on the heralded history of the quarterback position.

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“It’s a really special day,” Ryan said. “We’re all so excited to be here in Indianapolis and to be part of this Colts organization. It’s an organization that has a long lineage of incredible quarterback play, starting with Johnny Unitas, an award I was fortunate enough to win when I was in college and to meet his family.

And Peyton Manning, who for me, growing up, was exactly who I wanted to be. I’ve gotten a chance to get to know him during my career, and there’s not a better representative for this organization than him.”

Matt Ryan to reporters after trade to the Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan Indianapolis Colts press conference

matt ryan indianapolis colts press conference
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

This was part of a larger meet-and-greet as Ryan was introduced to the media in Indianapolis. The multi-time Pro Bowler also indicated that if he were to move on from the Falcons, his only other landing spot would have been the Colts.

“I knew there was only one spot I wanted to go. And if I was going to make a move, this was the one place I wanted to be,” Ryan said.

The NFL MVP back in 2016, Ryan had a tremendous amount of success during his 14-year run with the Falcons. However, it became clear over the past few seasons that the team wasn’t anywhere near playoff-caliber. Over the course of the past two seasons, Atlanta has posted an 11-22 record. It has not earned a playoff spot since back in 2017.

It’s clear that Ryan has championship aspirations as the 36-year-old quarterback enters the twilight of his career.

“I’m coming in to a building that has been set up extremely well and a roster that’s set up to win,” Ryan told reporters.

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For Indianapolis, the hope is that general manager Chris Ballard and Co. have finally settled their quarterback situation following the disastrous one-year tenure of Carson Wentz.

In fact, Indianapolis’ quarterback situation has remain unsettled since Andrew Luck shockingly retired ahead of the 2019 season. It’s led to some major struggles and a lack of continuity under center for an otherwise playoff-contending Colts squad.

That came to a culmination late during the 2021 regular season when Wentz struggled big time in a Week 18 loss to the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. If Indianapolis had held on for the win, it would’ve been in the playoffs — dramatically changing the discourse this offseason.

Indianapolis Colts QB situation prior to Matt Ryan’s arrival

matt ryan replaces carson wentz with indianapolis colts
Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • 2019: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer
  • 2020: Philip Rivers
  • 2021: Carson Wentz

When Indy signed Rivers ahead of the 2020 season, the team figured he’d be in the mix for a couple seasons. That did not come to fruition with the former Pro Bowler surprisingly retiring following the 2020 campaign.

This left Chris Ballard and Co. in a less-than-stellar situation. Hence, why the Colts ultimateley moved what would be a first-round pick and change to the Philadelphia Eagles for the aforementioned Wentz. This obviously didn’t pan out.

Matt Ryan knows his history in bringing up Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis Colts
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to their time as the Baltimore Colts, this organization had a ton of success under Unitas and Manning. That included winning two NFL Championships and a Super Bowl title during 17-year run with Unitas running the show.

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Once Unitas led Baltimore for the then-San Diego Chargers following the 1972 season, it was futility for the Colts. While dealing with a move to Indianapolis, the Colts earned all of six playoff appearances in the 26 years between Unitas’ departure and the team selecting Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. For his part, Manning led Indy to 11 playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title in 13 seasons with the team.

What does this have to do with Matt Ryan? It’s simple. He knows this history. He’s an observer of said history. He’s now hoping to follow in the line of the greats of the past.

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