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Atlanta's Ryan stars on the periphery of celebrity
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ATLANTA — While Matt Ryan is getting a taste of what it's like to be a star NFL quarterback, the adulation is nothing like his Falcons predecessor Michael Vick received as an Atlanta celebrity.

When Vick made public appearances for the Falcons, community admiration was palpable. Fans clamored for his attention. Little kids rushed to hug him. Adults flashed cameras and shouted his name.

That's hardly the case for Ryan, who gets treated more like just another player rather than the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"Yeah, it's part of the job, no question about it," Ryan said this week. "I would never go seeking it. You know what I mean? But it's one of those things that goes along with playing this position in this league, and you have to understand that."

In a league featuring several quarterbacks with high visibility, Ryan seems perfectly comfortable on the periphery of celebrity.

Maybe he would change his tact if he becomes a Super Bowl champion. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning gained crossover appeal after winning titles.

Though Ryan isn't totally ignored by fans.

"When I was (at Boston College), that was the first time I'd be at dinner or something like that, and people would stop me," he said. "Down here, the southern hospitality is a real thing. People are respectful of your privacy, which has been nice, but it happens. You go to the Mall of Georgia around Christmas time, and everybody's out shopping. It's tough to get your shopping done."

Ryan was one of seven other Falcons who made a surprise appearance at middle school this week. When he walked into they gym, Ryan drew as excited a response as practice squad QB D.J. Shockley, who led Georgia to an SEC championship in 2005.

Judging by the reaction of the 50 students who spent nearly an hour doing their regular fitness routine with the players, Ryan's 13 victories in 20 games with the Falcons were no big deal.

Ryan later signed a handful of autographs and posed for a few photos — mostly for adult employees of Sandy Springs Middle School — but he never required some kind of escape route to dodge adoring fans.

Nobody wanted the inside scoop as Atlanta (2-1) was preparing to visit San Francisco (3-1) on Sunday.

"Yeah, man, that's just not Matt's style," Falcons receiver Roddy White said. "His primary concern is winning games. None of that other stuff really matters all that much to him."

Ryan says it's a stretch to call him a reluctant star, and as a former No. 3 overall draft pick with a winning record, he's been quick to sign endorsement contracts with AirTran, Gillette and Axe hair products. But when he was acknowledged by ESPN earlier this year as the "Best Breakthrough Athlete," part of him cringed.

"When you get in there and you see the size of the theater and you see all these people going up and talking, a little bit of you is like, 'I hope I don't get this,' " Ryan said. "Being nominated is cool enough.' But when you do, it's obviously a great thing."

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia and attending the prestigious William Penn Charter School helped forge Ryan's glib-free personality. It's not as if the 24-year-old bachelor lacks a sense of humor, however.

When he stood last month with three other teammates in the Falcons' announcement of a sponsorship deal with AirTran, Ryan and running back Michael Turner playfully traded insults.

Ryan's listing in The Wall Street Journal last month as NFL's most handsome quarterback only took the locker room teasing to another level.

"He has the stuff that he does like Gillette, ESPN magazine covers, but it's all kind of under the radar," said receiver Brian Finneran, one of Ryan's closest friends on the team. "You don't see him out in public, but the stuff like Gillette and Axe — any chance you have to get on him, you have to because those opportunities are few and far between."

Ryan's arrives early for practice or on time. He stays late for extra work or film study.

"Like everyone else in our organization, Matt Ryan is all about being humble and hungry," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. "We're proud to have him as a team leader."

When the Falcons signed Ryan to a six-year, $72 million contract, Blank wanted personal reassurance that he was making a wise investment.

Win games. Don't embarrass the team.

"You get a feel and a sense from talking to Mr. Blank of what he wants from this organization, of what he wants from the players in this organization," Ryan said. "If you're smart about where you go and what you do when you do it, you have to think about those things in advance. I've done a pretty good job of that so far."

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