Coming from Atlanta, where the downtown road map is a gigantic bowl of spaghetti, it must be refreshing to be in a city with streets that go directly north, south, east, and west. Have you found Indy easy to navigate so far?
Yeah, it can be tricky getting around Atlanta. Not to mention the traffic. Let’s just say it’s been a welcome adjustment, being able to get seemingly anywhere in town in 20–25 minutes. I haven’t been able to do that for the last 14 years.
You were born in Philly, educated in Boston, and you’ve spent your entire career down South. That said, you’ve always seemed to give off a Midwestern Nice Guy vibe. Even though you’ve never lived here, do you feel like your personality translates well in Indiana?
It’s funny, because the first scholarship offer I got out of high school was from [former Purdue head coach] Joe Tiller. I even came to West Lafayette with my dad. We had an awesome visit there and at Iowa. I felt completely comfortable in the Midwest. The people here are kind, welcoming, and, you know, just normal. I think my personality fits.
When did your friendship with Peyton Manning start?
I was a senior in college the first time I heard from Peyton. They had a Manning Award for the top college quarterback, and I was lucky enough to win that award, so I got a call from him, Eli, Archie, and Cooper. From there, it was just back and forth. He reached out to me after my rookie year in Atlanta to hang out and play golf in Chattanooga, and the relationship grew from there. He’s certainly someone who I’ve looked up to my entire career. I feel very fortunate to be friends with him.
Your career paths are strikingly similar. Manning was in Indianapolis for 14 years and thought he would be here forever, but the team decided to move on. You were with the Atlanta Falcons for 14 years and thought you would be there forever, but the team decided to move on. How important was it to have someone in your corner who had lived through a similar experience?
You’re right about the similarities, and I hope they continue because he had a pretty productive second chapter there in Denver [laughs]. That would be a nice thing to match.
You invested a decade and a half in Atlanta, and the team still went shopping around for your replacement. I know this year probably isn’t a full-on Matt Ryan Revenge Tour, but considering how it ended with the Falcons and those questioning what you have left in the tank at age 37, what’s your drive like for 2022?
I think all athletes feel like they have something to prove, that chip on your shoulder. I certainly do. I still feel like my best football is in front of me. I’m pushing myself every day to make that happen. And the Colts have a great support staff—coaches, training staff, everyone—that can help me get there.
You’ve pointed to George Floyd’s murder as a linchpin moment that changed how you approached philanthropy and activism. For instance, you founded the ATL Initiative to help Black youth in Atlanta. Why was that important to you?
One of the things that comes with being in this profession is you’re given a platform. For me, the George Floyd situation was captivating and heartbreaking. We used to have team meetings where we talked about making social change in Atlanta. At the meeting directly after the George Floyd incident, one of my teammates said, “If we just do the same things we’ve always done, we’re going to get the same results.” That stuck with me because I had always been like, “Yeah, man, I got your back! I support you!” But I never took the lead on it. People of all races need to take the lead on making some changes.
Atlanta is a mecca of Black culture. Because it was Atlanta, did you feel even more of a responsibility?
Because of the demographics there, I knew I wanted to try to make a big impact for Black youth. Atlanta has the largest racial wealth disparity in the country. There’s no reason why we can’t improve that and give disadvantaged kids a better opportunity than they currently have. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far. We’ve taken our time and been diligent about creating a foundation that’s going to be sustainable for years. I have twin boys who are 4, and my hope is that when they’re in their 20s, they’ll be living in a city—whether it’s Atlanta, Indianapolis, or somewhere else—that’s better than it is right now. Hopefully, they can learn the lesson to take it upon themselves to leave the places where they live in a better spot.
You’re still early in your time in Indy, but have you and your wife explored initiatives you might tackle here?
Yeah, it’s still early for us on that. One of the things I like to do—and I did this in my first few years in Atlanta—is try to help teammates who have been here longer make an impact with some of the things they’re already doing. I think that’s a great place to start. I’m new to the city and would like to get a feel for it, but I want to be active [philanthropically] right away.
You have a reputation for being squeaky clean. Is there an unpaid parking ticket we don’t know about? There has to be a time when Matt Ryan got in trouble for something.
Oh, sure. I had plenty of detentions in high school. Nothing too bad, but I did some of the same dumb stuff we all do when we’re young. Luckily, there was no Twitter or Instagram when I was going through school.
Is there anything that makes you mad?
Besides Atlanta traffic [laughs]? I can’t stand it when people aren’t on time. I don’t know why, but a lack of punctuality is a pet peeve of mine. Honestly, though, I’m pretty low-key. There’s not a lot that flusters me.