NEW YORK – Terry Young had a upside-down, between-the-legs view of the unlikely path his good friend took to the Super Bowl.
When Seahawks punter Jon Ryan first began kicking back in Regina, Saskatchewan, Young was his long snapper, first in youth football and then in high school. Later, when Ryan punted for the University of Regina and the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he’d call on Young to long snap for him during offseason workout sessions.
Their bond became so strong that when Ryan earned a trip to Sunday’s Super Bowl, where his Seahawks play the Denver Broncos, Young had be here.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ said Young, 31, an industrial mechanic and firefighter for an oil refinery who is visiting here for the first time. “When he initially texted me and said, ‘I’m going to the Super Bowl, buddy!’ he said he had one set of tickets left and asked me if I wanted them.
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“It’s surreal. I’m so happy for him. All the hard work and sacrifice that he’s put in — being away from home and his family — it’s great. He’s now made it to the Holy Grail.’’
Young still has trouble believing his good friend plays in the NFL. When Ryan broke in with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 — after setting a CFL record for average yards per punt in two seasons with Winnipeg — Young was so excited seeing him on TV back home, he got angry when the cameras switched to quarterback Brett Favre.
The pair continued working out together after Ryan’s first season in the NFL. They finally stopped after his second season with Seattle in 2009, but still hang out regularly in Regina, Seattle and during Young’s annual trip to Ryan’s second residence in the Phoenix area.
“We never talk about football,’’ Young said. “I’m more interested in how his life’s going, if he’s lonely being away from home, if he’s met anybody special in his life. That kind of thing. He’s always talking football with people and doesn’t need me to be doing that as well.’’
They first met as ninth-graders at Sheldon-Williams Collegiate, when Young was nearly as tall as his current 6 feet 2.
“I saw him and I said, ‘Who’s that little redheaded guy?’ ’’
But it soon became clear how good an athlete Ryan was.
Ryan excelled at basketball and was also the star goaltender for a Midget AAA hockey team of 15-and-16-year-olds in nearby Moose Jaw. He was invited to training camp by the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Playing junior hockey would likely have ended Ryan’s football career because of overlapping seasons, which is why Young was thrilled when his friend called to tell him he’d been cut.
“I said, ‘Hey, that’s great news!’ ’’ Young said. “Then, when I hung up, my mom said, ‘You realize he was probably very upset over the news, right?’ And I said, ‘But now he can come back and play for us!’ ’’
Ryan once unfurled a 90-yard punt — about 65 through the air — for their high-school football team. Young had become his long snapper in 10th grade, and the two were inseparable.
“We practiced all the time,’’ he said. “Before practice, after practice.’’
Punters need firm, accurate snaps during training sessions or it can throw their timing off. That’s why, even once Ryan made it to the CFL and NFL, he and Young still headed off for workouts twice a week.
“He always tells me I could have long-snapped in college, or in the CFL and that I was silly not to,’’ Young said. “But I tell him I’m doing exactly what I want to do in life and don’t regret it one bit.’’
Young first got to know Ryan’s family, including his late father, Bob, who contracted a rare form of bone cancer before Ryan’s first NFL season and died at age 54.
“I don’t know how he held it together,’’ Young said of Ryan. “Going through all of that in his first year with an NFL team. It was a hard time.’’
Ryan’s father was wheelchair-bound toward the end of his life, but a Regina businessman arranged to fly him and his wife to Green Bay on his private jet so he could realize his dream of seeing his son play in the NFL. The Packers arranged to have him brought down to the entrance tunnel to the field to surprise Ryan, who was overcome by emotion.
Ryan’s father died a month later, but Young said the visit gave Ryan an unforgettable memory.
“To have him there, down in the tunnel, was just something unbelievable,’’ Young said.
As is this week’s Super Bowl experience. When the weekend’s done, Young will catch a flight to Seattle, where he’ll spend the week with his old friend.
“Hopefully,’’ Young said, “we’ll have something big to celebrate.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners