Redheads flock to him, he's been a ninja warrior, he has biceps of steel, a comedian for a wife and loves Coors Light. Meet Jon Ryan, the most interesting punter in the world.
1. Seahawks punter Jon Ryan sits down. A rare day off. He doesn’t look at the menu: Coors Light, please. Jon Ryan also doesn’t look at the clock, but I do. It’s barely noon.
2. First item on the agenda: Regina, Saskatchewan. During the Super Bowl in 2015, Ryan followed player-introduction etiquette by stating his name (Jon Ryan) and college (University of Regina). But those two seconds led to an online fury. Did he actually say Regina, or did he slip in some human anatomy?
“My hometown is Regina, Saskatchewan,” he explains. “I think that means queen or something, doesn’t it? Anyways, for some reason we pronounce it Ruh-jine-uh. Seriously. I don’t know why. I wish we didn’t. I just grew up with it. I thought it was normal. ‘What do you mean it sounds like vagina? No, it doesn’t. It’s clearly an R.’
“Then I moved away from there, and I was like, ‘Oh, dear.’ You hear it aloud and it’s like, ‘Oh, dear.’ I was literally thinking about that today. Next time we go to the Super Bowl I’m going to say my high school instead of my university. It might not break the internet.”
3. He has a speech impediment, but he can only hear it if he hears himself on TV or the radio, which is why he could never correct it.
“Canadians are so nice no one ever made fun of me growing up,” he says. “Not even once. Until I was an adult and got made fun of by other adults, which says a lot about what a terrible place this world is. Sometimes I was a little shy to do interviews or TV stuff.”
4. Another beer? Yes. 12:27 p.m.
5. Redheads love him, flock to him, all wearing his No. 9 jersey.
“I do autograph sessions,” he says, “and I can’t even believe how many gingers come. It’s like a ginger meet up.”
6. Things Jon Ryan used to tweet about: “The Bachelor,” the Phoenix Studio 6 motel he lived in, the black bars that censor nudity on TV.
7. Once, in 2008, he attended the wedding of Packers kicker Mason Crosby. He was supposed to say a few words. Pretty standard.
“I didn’t talk,” he says. “I was like: ‘I just can’t talk. I’ll tell you what I think. I’ll tell your wife what I think of both of you. But I can’t talk in front of 50 people.’ You couldn’t pay me millions of dollars to do it.”
8. The thing about school is that he didn’t like it. Didn’t try. Didn’t care. Barely went to class. Hardly opened his books. He was on academic probation, he thinks, his last three years.
So one day, in the front entrance of his mom’s house, she gave him a little pep talk about college: “As long as you’re playing football, as long as you’re doing this, we don’t really care what your grades are.”
“I don’t know if my mom would even admit that that happened because it’s the opposite thing a mother should tell you,” he says. “But it meant a lot to me because it was the spark I needed to take it to the next level.”
9. Like many of his NFL brethren, he left college early for the bountiful life of the pros.
“I left school a year-and-a-half early to sign for a $900 signing bonus in the Canadian Football League,” he says.
10. He played lacrosse, and that’s important only because lacrosse is really a story about his dad.
“He was the biggest inspiration in my life,” Ryan says. “He was my hero growing up. He never, ever played sports. Wasn’t an athlete. But whatever my brother and I were doing, he was fully on board. We decided when we were 8 years old that we were going to play lacrosse. Hardly anyone else in town played lacrosse.
My dad didn’t even know what it was. Within five years he was coaching the provincial team.
“He was our biggest supporter and always let us dream stupid dreams.”
11. He is all in and obsessive. Example: Last year, he was on the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.”
He found anyone who had ever been on the show and sent them messages. Within a week he was training on a homemade ninja obstacle course.
12. A typical off day: breakfast, pull tabs, bar, beers, movie.
13. His dad watched him play in the NFL once. Traveled to Lambeau Field in 2006 when Ryan was a rookie punter for the Green Bay Packers, his dad’s favorite team. Bob Ryan died a month later from cancer.
14. Things Jon Ryan used Twitter for: making fans, calling out the NFL, meeting his wife.
15. Making fans: “For a punter, you make your fans one at a time,” he says. “You don’t sell 100,000 jerseys and do press conferences. So literally you make your fans one at a time. That’s how it happened for me on Twitter. I went from getting recognized very seldom to, in a way, blowing up a little bit. Not to sound too much like a jerk.”
16. Calling out the NFL: During the Super Bowl in 2013, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver told a radio station, “No, they ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do.”
Typically reserved, Ryan tweeted that he’d be embarrassed if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t suspend Culliver.
“I was coming out of my shell a little bit,” Ryan says, “and then I saw the backlash and I was like: ‘Ehhh, maybe I’ll go back in there for a while. That’s a lot more comfortable.’”
17. Meeting his wife: He always had a celebrity crush on comedian Sarah Colonna. When the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl against the Broncos in 2014, Ryan started tweeting at Colonna. Playful, funny stuff. Then, from the bar of a Chili’s in Jersey City and emboldened by a beverage or two, he took his shot and messaged his number.
The next morning, he thought, “What an idiot!” But then he looked at his phone.
18. Colonna: “It was smooth. I never think of him that way, but it was actually smooth.”
19. Beer? OK. Forget to check the time.
20. He loves Christmas. Not just a little, not like a normal person. He loves Christmas so much that he put up his first tree this year two weeks before Thanksgiving.
“When I went over for Christmas for the first time last year, there were five Christmas trees,” Colonna says. “There were five, and one of them snows on itself. Shoots up snow and comes back down, and then it broke and I’ve never seen a man more devastated. He loves it. It’s funny because with their jobs, they don’t really go anywhere for Christmas. I was like, ‘What do you normally do on Christmas?’ He goes in the hot tub and drinks champagne and plays Christmas music. And he said that one Christmas he actually dropped his phone and portable speaker in the hot tub, but he didn’t even care because it was Christmas.”
21. His favorite Christmas movies: “Christmas Vacation,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Bad Santa.”
22. John Schneider cut him. That was in Green Bay, at the beginning of the 2008 season. Schneider wasn’t the Packers’ general manager, but he carried the team’s ax.
A week later, the Seahawks signed Ryan. Eighteen months later, Schneider became the Seahawks’ general manager.
23. Every Friday is the Gun Show: His weekly arm workout with Schneider.
Last season Ryan was playing out the final year of his contract, and no one knew if Schneider and the Seahawks would bring him back.
“We talked about his kids, my wife, his wife,” Ryan says. “I can remember it coming up once for like three seconds and him being like: ‘We want you here for a long time. Just so you know.’ Then it was back to South Park jokes.”
24. Kicker Steven Hauschka on the Gun Show: “A lot of arm exercises. Like way more than you’d want. To the point where you can’t feel your arms after you’re done.”
25. Move to the bar. Buy pull tabs. Start playing pull tabs.
26. He loves pull tabs. “Cardboard crack,” he says. Pull tabs are kind of like a paper version of slot machines. You pull the little tabs apart and hope the combination is a winner.
“We go to Jay Berry’s Café,” Colonna says, “and they just come over now with a basket and are like, ‘Which one did you guys want today?’ I’m like, ‘Oh God, we’re that couple.”
27. Colonna’s comedy helped him open up. Her shows are like watching someone read the embarrassing pages of their diary, except it’s funny, not sad. Sex, drinking, mistakes. She’s fearless.
He watched her perform and thought: “Wow, these people aren’t making fun of her. These people love her for doing this.”
28. Things Jon Ryan loves: the sun.
“There’s no ginger alive that likes the sun more than me,” he says. “When Sarah and I go on vacation, we’ll just lay by the pool for three days. That’s our idea of vacation: laying in the sun and having a few — dozen — margaritas.”
29. Things that hate Jon Ryan: the sun.
“Sometimes I think he forgets,” Colonna says. “I actually said in my vows, ‘I promise to always make sure you’re wearing sunscreen.’ We went to Mexico for our very first trip away together. We were underneath a cabana the whole time. And he got sunburned through the cabana! The material didn’t even protect him. That was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t even know that was possible.”
30. He went to his high school reunion a few years ago, and people jokingly asked what he was up to. Here’s what he told them: “Doing the exact same thing I was doing 10 years ago when I was in high school: playing football and drinking beer.”
31. One difference. He actually likes school now. He is enrolled to go back to college in January. Sports business management.
“This is the first time in 17 years that I’ve actually been interested in something,” he says.
32. He’s not coming back to Twitter any time soon.
33. After the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando this summer, an Instagram follower asked Ryan this summer, “Where in the bible does it say it’s OK to be homo sexual,” Ryan shot back, “You’re a terrible human being. I’m not religious but I’ll pray for your three boys cause with you as a father I worry. As well please stop cheering for the Seahawks. We don’t want piece of (expletive) fans like you. Thanks.”
He deleted his Twitter and Instagram account but never backed down.
34. He has thrown a touchdown pass, but what’s most remembered about that play is a picture: a picture of Ryan’s face, looking like Beaker from the Muppets.
“I think 10 years ago I would have been embarrassed,” he says. “I would have been like: ‘Really? I do something cool, finally I do something really cool, and then I get a backlash?’ But, no, I embraced the Jon Ryan Touchdown Face.”
35. Part of him will always feel like the underdog. The Canadian kid who played in the CFL, who practiced punting on youth soccer fields, who slept in a Studio 6 and then got cut from his first NFL team.
The reality is a little different. Ryan is in his 11th season. He’s the longest tenured player on the Seahawks and also the oldest. He turns 35 this month, which is also the number he wore in high school, which is about the time he got his first email account, which shows that Jon Ryan has never forgotten his roots even though he’s grown.
“I’ve had my Hotmail since I found out what email was, which was maybe in ninth or 10th grade,” Ryan says, proudly. “I have emails from like 1998. I was so confused by computers when I got to high school. We didn’t grow up in the most affluent area. We had a community school, and there would be like one computer per classroom.
“I left elementary school in 1995 so computers weren’t really a thing yet. Then I went to high school and my parents sent us across town to the high school where the doctors and lawyers kids went. It wasn’t all that, but they had computers and everything. All these kids were whiz kids on the computer, and I didn’t know how to turn it on. They introduced me to email.”
He still uses that Hotmail account.