HOUSTON — Monday night was the premier of Matt Ryan vs. the Media Monster, a production that straddles the worlds of both horror and comedy.
Otherwise it was called Super Bowl Opening Night, the former term Media Day having been rendered as obsolete as the Royal typewriter.
This was everything the Falcons quarterback is not. Overdone. Ridiculous. Self-important. Definitely not a part of the process of which Ryan and his coach are so fond of crediting for their presence here in the first place.
“Obviously this is a little different than our normal Monday night would be,” he said, fully amused.
“All this is cool. You never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again.”
He entered the Astros home ballpark this night to cheers and chants of M-V-P, M-V-P, passing through a portal billowing smoke. Music blared (media members actually were offered free ear plugs for the event, for those who didn’t need to actually hear either the questions or the answers to do their jobs).
One of the first questions Ryan faced, once Deion Sanders got through with him for a chummy one-on-one, was his favorite karaoke. (He professed a fondness for James Corden’s late night carpool karaoke. And, who knows, if he wins Sunday an invitation just might be forthcoming).
What song would he choose? “Some kind of ‘80s pop song.”
Care to give us a sample? “No karaoke tonight.”
For his first eight years in the league, Ryan had faced nothing like this.
He had led a sheltered life in Atlanta, playing capably for a team that had only once before made the Super Bowl. And that was back in the 1998 season when Ryan was but a middle schooler at Penn Charter (Philadelphia), a proud member of the Little Quakers youth team.
Nothing as a Falcon had prepared him for this scene, but then, he asked for it. Nobody told him he had to go all MVP on the league this year.
You think a constantly rotating assortment of media both serious and frivolous, seldom less than five deep, could rattle him? His first big Super Bowl public exposure went pretty much as this entire season had gone.
No one could get Ryan off his spot.
Not when asked the burning question of what he enjoys in his spare time. (It’s playing the guitar. “Although I’m not very good,” he said).
Not when asked to name the funniest teammate. (In an upset, he picked his center, Alex Mack).
Not when asked in quick succession to name his favorite song from Super Bowl halftime performer Lady Gaga. (“I can’t rip one off the top of my head”).
Or what he and his wife are binge watching these days (Showtime’s “Shameless”).
Or what does he eat when he cheats on his diet. (“Pizza is my go-to if I’m going to go off the reservation a little bit”).
What we had here was a classic match-up of opposites.
There was the ultimate example of hype on hyperdrive, of wretched excess given a microphone in order to amplify itself. The event stopped being about getting coherent interviews with players about the time all thought had to be distilled to 140 characters.
And here was Ryan, a player who has spent a lifetime being a serious-minded competitor while going to great lengths never to get entangled in his own words. Never controversial and seldom glib, he chooses his responses as carefully as a chef does his greens.
Oh, there’s a bright fire that burns within — everyone saw that when he ran in that touchdown against Green Bay in the NFC Championship and practically belched flame in the endzone. But that’s where it stays on weekdays with Ryan, within.
If he wanted to say something defiant — like “Look at me all you who said I could never win in the postseason. Here I am, and what have you ever done?” — he resisted.
Instead, when asked about the prospect of being named league MVP this weekend, Ryan said, “To me team awards, team success is what’s most important. I’m happy for the success we have together — that’s what gets me going.”
Or when approached with the idea that this Super Bowl was his chance at defining a legacy, he merely said, “Ultimately I understand as a quarterback you are judged by your postseason success. But it’s about winning this one game.”
More than memory, the man has committed his interviewing playbook to reflex.
If he wanted to say something to provoke a headline like, “What do you mean I’m boring? Let me tell you about my night out in Vegas with DiCaprio” — he thought better of it.
There was no cracking him.
Some are calling Atlanta “America’s Team” as they are facing the largely disliked New England Patriots. But Ryan simply went the provincial route. “We’ve appreciated the support our fans in Atlanta have given us all year long,” he said.
The comparisons between Ryan and Tom Brady are inevitable and constant. Just as his praise of the Pats quarterback were unrelenting Monday. Nothing this week for the bulletin board back at the Pats hotel.
It is questionable whether anyone can win this circus, but Ryan certainly didn’t lose it.
For by the end of Opening Night, we learned two very important things from the Falcons quarterback: That Kim Zolciak was naturally his favorite Real Housewife of Atlanta and that even when the Super Bowl opens its maw the widest, it still can’t swallow Ryan whole.