There are few NFL backup quarterbacks who equaled the success of Pat Ryan during his 11-year career with the Green and White. Ryan, also known by his teammates as "Mr. Guts" for his courage off the bench, spent the majority of his career in the shadows of Jets starting quarterbacks Matt Robinson, Richard Todd and Ken O'Brien, and accepted his role graciously.
"Pat is one of the premier backup quarterbacks in the NFL and once again he proved that when needed - he can come forward and lead out team," said former Jets head coach Joe Walton in 1989. "He is always prepared at a moments notice to come into a game and execute the game plan flawlessly.
When Ryan was drafted out of Tennessee in the 11th round of the 1978 draft, he was already accustomed to his future role with the Jets, which would be out of the spotlight. As a signal caller for the Volunteer football program, not only was Ryan's career hampered with a series of injuries, but he was used strictly as a passing quarterback in a primarily running offense.
It wasn't until his seventh professional season when Ryan was able to take a considerable amount of snaps for the Jets. Up until the 1984 season, the Oklahoma City native had just 86 passing attempts and five touchdowns in a six-year span.
While many quarterbacks would have balked at the idea of spending the majority of their career as a backup and a clip holder, Ryan took it in stride. It was unselfish characteristics such as these that made Ryan such an important piece of the Jets' puzzle year in and year out.
"He showed his maturity and value to the team in accepting his role," said Walton. "This added the respect that Pat's teammates have for him - not only as a player who can win, but as a player that has the maturity to put the team first."
In 1984, the same year in which the Jets moved from Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands, Ryan got his big break. When second-year quarterback Ken O'Brien, the Jets' first round selection in 1983, was unavailable to start the season opener, Ryan stepped in and started the first 11 games of the regular season. During that span, Ryan led the Jets to six of their eventual seven total wins. His 6-5 record consisted of a 43-point performance in New York's Week Three victory over Cincinnati and a rare 9-5 loss to the Colts at home in his final start of the season before O'Brien returned to action. Ryan finished that memorable campaign with 14 touchdowns and 1,939 passing yards.
After 1984, many felt that Ryan's playing time in New York would be a thing of the past. However, in 1986, Ryan's number was called for postseason duty.
In the first round of the '86 playoffs, Walton gave Ryan the starting nod to "give the team a lift" and that's exactly what he did. "Mr. Guts" completed 16 of 23 passing attempts for 153 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 35-15 win over Kansas City, the franchise's first postseason win in four years. On a memorable fourth and six play, the 31-year old bolted downfield for a 24-yard gain and a first down, ultimately leading to the Jets' first score of the game.
In the following playoff game against Cleveland, Ryan started off hot as he completed six of 11 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. His magical run would end with a not-so-happy ending as he left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury. When Ryan departed, the rest of the Jets' burners cooled down as the Green and White ended up losing in overtime, 23-20.
Ryan's career in New York, although overshadowed at times, was nothing short of inspiring. He left the Big Apple after 11 seasons of grooming younger promising quarterbacks and in the process, made any and all sacrifices needed to establish success in the NFL.
"Pat and Kenny (O'Brien) have tremendous mutual respect," said Walton, who coached Ryan for seven seasons in the 80's. "You need two quarterbacks to win in this league."
Luckily for the Jets, Pat Ryan was always willing to be that essential second quarterback.