Through the last gasp of the Mike Holmgren era, through the blip of Jim Mora’s truncated tenure, and finally all the way through the Pete Carroll Golden Age, only one roster constant remains: Jon Ryan.
On Sunday at New England, Ryan punted in his 136th consecutive game, establishing a franchise record of consecutive starts by surpassing the mark of indestructible guard Chris Gray.
“What Chris Gray did was much more impressive than what I’ve done,” Ryan said Wednesday. “For an O-lineman to play 135 consecutive games in unbelievable. At the same time, I’m still pretty proud of this.”
He should be. You not only have to be tough, but really good to stay in the NFL for 11 seasons, the past nine in Seattle. Ryan’s net average of 39.8 yards in the first nine games this season is second only to his franchise record of 40.8 in 2012.
Ryan turns 35 on Nov. 26 and is the third-eldest punter in the NFL.
A punter-without-borders, the Regina, Saskatchewan, native turned pro in 2004 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before emigrating to the NFL and Green Bay in 2006-07 and joining the Seahawks in 2008.
It gives him a unique perspective on the trajectory of the Seahawks, as they struggled to get nine wins in 32 games his first two seasons. Struggling offenses would seem like good job security for an iron-footed punter.
And as the Seahawks scratched out back-to-back 7-9 seasons in Carroll’s first two years, Ryan watched a dizzying parade of players hired and fired. It was a little frightening, and he admits he was unconvinced and suspicious of the constant personnel churn.
“It feels like a long time ago that we had four wins in ’08 and five in ’09,” he said. “And in those first two years with Pete and John (Schneider, GM), it was hard to see what they were doing. They made a couple hundred transactions, and as a player, I was wondering if they knew what they were doing. I didn’t say it, but I couldn’t see how they were going to build anything when there was a revolving door out front.”
But in 2012, it started coming into focus.
What seemed like cut-throat management, he realized, was the recognition that if they could find somebody who could serve as even a small upgrade at any position, they’d make the move.
“In my opinion, that’s what built the competitive atmosphere we’ve got around here now, and is the key to our success,” Ryan said. “It’s nonstop competition … there’s nothing like it.”
Ryan is built like a linebacker these days, having decided that as one of the shorter punters in the league (6-0), he needed to counteract the advantage of the longer-levered punters by gaining strength.
“I always make the joke that Jon punts in the NFL so he can work out in the weight room,” Seahawks placekicker Steven Hauschka said. “He’s really a physical freak, an incredible athlete who is fast and strong and durable. He’s easily one of the hardest workers on the team, if not the hardest worker.”
Ryan’s athleticism has shown several times with jarring tackles on returners who have tested him, and in the NFC title game against Green Bay after the 2014 season, when he threw a touchdown pass on a fake punt.
Ryan’s public profile got a boost when he started dating comedian Sarah Colonna around the time the Seahawks were on their way to winning Super Bowl 48.
“She was a huge baseball fan, but not football,” Ryan said of Colonna. “The first time she watched me play was in the Super Bowl, and at one point she said to her friends that the coaches must not like me because he hasn’t even been on the field.”
Her friends shouted her down that it was because they were winning by 35 points and they hadn’t needed to punt.
Ryan is one of the quick-witted Seahawks during interviews, so it was fair to wonder what home life was like in the Ryan-Colonna household. Night at the Improv?
“Actually no, probably not more than a regular couple — it’s not like a clown show,” he said. “The thing is, she’s always so supportive, my No. 1 fan, and in turn I’m her No. 1 fan. We understand each other. Sometimes games don’t go the way you’d like them to go and sometimes (comedy) shows don’t go the way you’d like. It’s nice to know the other person is always there.”
Ryan said Colonna incorporates their relationship experiences into her act for comedic effect, but Ryan has left little room for her to roast his performance.
“To be honest, I feel stronger at 35 than I did at 25, and I’m hitting the ball better than I ever have,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d play into my 50s. I know I’m having more fun playing football than I ever have, so I can’t imagine not playing.”