The New England Patriots game Sunday night at the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons is being billed as a possible Super Bowl preview by some.
For others, the stakes are much higher.
“It wouldn’t be bad to go home to Maine next summer with some bragging rights,” said Sarah Ryan.
Sarah Ryan is the wife of Matt Ryan, quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. She is also one of the best high school basketball players to ever come out of Maine. As Sarah Marshall, she led McAuley High to back-to-back Class A state championships and then moved on to Boston College, where she started three years and was a tri-captain as a junior and senior.
Much of her family and many of her friends still live in Maine. She and Matt Ryan visit every summer, hence, the desire to see the Falcons win against the team she grew up cheering for on Sunday afternoons in the fall.
“I was 100 percent a Patriots fan,” said Sarah Ryan in a phone interview from Atlanta. “People ask me if I still root for them. But, you know, as soon as Matt was drafted, I switched my allegiance to the Falcons. That was a no-brainer.”
Still, this week has been more busy than normal.
“Oh yeah, a lot more ticket requests for people coming down,” she said. “I’m hoping that anyone coming down is going to trade in their blue (Patriots) jerseys for a red (Falcons) one.”
That won’t be a problem for most. Her father and mother, John and Susie, joined Sarah in becoming Falcons fans when Matt was drafted in 2008, the third pick overall.
“He’s my son-in-law and blood is thicker than water,” said John Marshall. “I was a New England fan my whole life. Now, it’s Falcons No. 1, Patriots No. 2.”
Sarah, who grew up in Falmouth, met Matt Ryan when they were Boston College freshmen, running into each other at the training and weight rooms.
“We had some mutual friends and started to hang out together,” said Sarah. “Then we started dating my sophomore year.”
They were married in 2011.
The Marshalls will fly down Saturday morning and return Monday. They’ll be joined by daughters Anna, Abby and Maggie (who is married to Matt Ryan’s brother, Mike), as well as cousins and friends. Sarah hopes those who are still Patriots fans should remember whose house they’re in this weekend.
It will be like old times. Sarah said Sundays in the fall when she was growing up revolved around those 1 p.m. Patriots football games.
“I still remember our Sunday routine,” she said. “Church, sandwiches, and then the Patriots. I was one of four girls, and my dad had us trained pretty well to embrace football.”
“She’s got a pretty good memory,” said John Marshall. “We’d go to church, then to Town Landing Market for sandwiches, then watch the games. The kids grew up fans of Boston sports, Red Sox and Celtics.”
The Marshalls attend every Falcons home game, and John sometimes goes on the road as well. “It’s become our fall thing,” he said.
And the Ryans love to come up to Maine in the summer. According to Sarah, Matt spends a lot of time on local golf courses with her family.
“We go out on the water, try to make it a true-blue Maine experience,” she said. “A lot of lobster.”
But Atlanta has been their home for six years, and its teams are in their hearts.
Sarah now roots for the Braves and Hawks, not the Red Sox and Celtics. A Red Sox-Braves World Series, she said, “would be exciting.”
She was recently hired by the WNBA franchise the Atlanta Dream as a sponsorship sales consultant.
“I love it,” she said. “In addition to sponsorship sales, I’m getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the team is run. And to be back in basketball is very exciting.”
She and Matt are heavily involved in local charities, particularly the Boys and Girls Clubs and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“Any time you can help children going through major issues is a big deal,” said Sarah.
Sarah said her husband — known as “Matty Ice,” a nickname he was given in high school (and which Tom Brady says is “pretty sweet”) — has tried to remain calm this week. This is a big game for the Falcons, who have started out 1-2 and are facing a Patriots defense that has yet to give up any fourth-quarter points.
“He’s so good like that,” she said. “He knows no matter what’s going on, you can’t get too high or too low. We’d love to be 3-0, but that’s not the case. It’s still early.”
She’ll be nervous, as always.
“The week leading up is busy,” said Sarah. “There’s a lot of nerves on Sunday. We’ll get to the game way too early. It’s the whole process of hurry-up-and-wait.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: