What is Matt Ryan really like? Just ask the Atlanta Falcons equipment managers

Former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan brings his son to the microphone after announcing his retirement at a press conference at the Falcons practice facility in Flowery Branch on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Former Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan brings his son to the microphone after announcing his retirement at a press conference at the Falcons practice facility in Flowery Branch on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

If you are a Falcons fan, you probably know a lot about Matt Ryan. You may have seen him throw all 367 touchdown passes that he completed for the Falcons. You likely heard him give countless postgame interviews from locker rooms around the NFL. Perhaps you learned about his background, family and motivations.

But you probably didn’t know that in his 14 seasons with the Falcons, he was not only a four-time Pro Bowler, but also the equipment managers’ most devoted ally.

Brian Boigner, the Falcons’ retired director of equipment operations, recalled a trip to Green Bay during coach Dan Quinn’s tenure. After a walk-through at a local high school, Quinn called up Boigner to instruct players on what they should do with their gear upon their return to the hotel. It was simple – go back to their room, change out of their practice attire and put it in a laundry bag before getting lunch.

However, a few players disregarded or forgot and sat down for lunch at the hotel still in their gear.

“And Matt walked up to them and said, ‘I thought I heard Boigs four times in three minutes tell you what to do when you get back to the hotel,’” Boigner said. “‘Why are you guys sitting down eating?’”

Any quarterback can stick up for his teammates. Not every quarterback will take on his teammates to stick up for an equipment manager. Ryan, who April 22 announced his retirement from the NFL, was not every quarterback.

“The thing about it is, Matt always had our back,” Boigner said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlantans grew to admire Ryan largely for what he did on the field – the poise under pressure, the pinpoint accuracy, the toughness and the leadership. But part of it, too, was what looked a lot like decency and humility that he displayed in interviews, his charity work and in interactions with teammates, coaches and fans.

Boigner and Jimmy Hay – Boigner’s longtime assistant and now the manager of equipment operations – were with the team for the entirety of Ryan’s Falcons career. They volunteered their confirmation that what was seen from afar also was true up close when no one was watching. From their positions serving Ryan and his teammates, the two longtime Falcons staffers saw Ryan act the way you hope your star quarterback would – treating people like he would want to be treated and not acting like he thought he was a big deal.

“The high-profile guys are sometimes high maintenance, need a lot of stuff,” Hay told the AJC. “Literally, whatever we gave him, he managed it and he’d wear it out until we’d have to force him, like, Hey, let’s get you a new shirt or new shoes or whatever.”

At the team complex, when he wasn’t practicing, watching game video, in a meeting, getting treatment, lifting weights, giving interviews or fulfilling some other duty, Ryan liked taking refuge in the equipment room. It was a rare corner of the building where no one asked anything of him.

It made him privy to the occasional grumbling about players who constantly came in for new gloves, socks or something else. It became Ryan’s irritation, too. And when a player came in repeatedly, he was more than willing to call it out.

“He’s like, ‘I don’t feel like you guys can say it, but I can tell ‘em,’” Hay said.

The friendship among co-workers, between the equipment guys and the multimillionaire face of the franchise, was genuine. Ryan often came into the equipment room to eat lunch, watch TV and let his guard down. The conversation ran the gamut, but it wasn’t the packaged soundbites he delivered to media.

“Not that he said the wrong stuff with us,” Hay said. “But he would tell stories about whatever (or) something he did and his wife got mad at him. Just, like, life in general. He just felt like he could talk to us.”

Boigner and Ryan shared a running joke over the years stemming from an incident that was not quite as amusing when it happened.

In a game at San Diego in Ryan’s rookie season, the radio receiver in Ryan’s helmet malfunctioned, requiring the Falcons to call timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty and for Boigner to fix it. However, Boigner was having difficulty making the repair, causing coach Mike Smith to lose his temper at Boigner and an assistant.

“And I just remember on the plane that night (Ryan) going, ‘Boigs, I don’t know if I had anything to do with what happened to my helmet, but if I did, I’m sorry,’” Boigner said. “‘I’ve never seen somebody get their (expletive) chewed as bad as you did.’”

Such empathy and thoughtfulness don’t always flourish in any work setting, but perhaps especially in an NFL locker room. It’s easy for athletes who have grown up coddled and praised, whose salaries are beyond most people’s dreams and who are cheered for by tens of thousands of strangers to develop an inflated view of themselves.

“Sometimes rightly so, sometimes not,” Boigner said with a laugh.

Ryan avoided that trap. Early on in his career, Ryan took members of the support staff – training room, video, equipment room – on outings such as Braves games. When Hay suggested using a private entrance so he wouldn’t be swamped by fans, Ryan brushed it off.

“He was like, ‘I don’t care; nobody knows who I am,’” Hay said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re kind of big-time.’”

One summer, Hay’s son, Jake, served as a ballboy during training camp. When camp ended, Ryan took Jake and another ballboy to Chili’s as a treat.

“They were like, ‘Whoa, Matt Ryan took us to Chili’s and was like, Get whatever you want,’” Hay said.

Hay named two other Falcons greats, Jessie Tuggle and Todd McClure, who were of a similar vein as Ryan, players who cared enough about the equipment staff to get to know them as people. But no one stuck up for them quite like Ryan, who also happens to be arguably the greatest player in franchise history.

“That’s why, in my eyes, he’d be the best one I’ve ever been around,” Hay said.

Alex Godoy might say the same. Godoy is the longtime custodian at the Falcons’ complex. When Ryan returned to Flowery Branch for his retirement news conference, he saw Godoy and greeted him by name.

“This is a guy that vacuums, takes out the trash,” Hay said. “(Ryan) came up to him and grabbed him. Like, how cool that makes this guy feel, and he treated everybody like that. To be the star quarterback, the face of the franchise and never be too big to talk to everybody and know everybody’s name. It’s kind of the way he was. You’re not surprised at the success he had.”

Glad for it, too.