Matt Ryan has been known as "Matty Ice" for so long that tracing the exact origin of his now-famous nickname is like trying to play a futile game of Memory.
Those who know the Atlanta Falcons quarterback best say the nickname took hold in 2000, during his sophomore season at Penn Charter School in Philadelphia.
Let's start with Ryan's own description from Monday's Super Bowl media session: "It just started amongst friends," he said, "and it's hung around a long time. ... It just stuck. It's a good nickname."
Okay, that's a start. But then the reasons for the nickname diverge.
"He was always a cool customer," high school teammate Tony McDevitt said recently, as Ryan prepared to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. "He exuded confidence in the huddle, even though he was younger and he didn't have a lot of experience. People started saying he had ice in his veins, and Matty Ice just sort of stuck."
"Upperclassmen on the team started calling him that," said another teammate, Rob Hitschler. "I was actually talking about this with Tony. We think it was Billy McKinney."
"I can't tell you that there was a moment where the light bulb goes off and now we're going to call him Matty Ice," McKinney said. "My recollection of when I started calling him Matty Ice. ... He came in as this 6-foot-4, lanky, just-hit-puberty sophomore, and off the field he's goofy and aw-shucks and it was our first scrimmage. I was a receiver, and I was a diva. Any time the ball didn't get thrown to me, I would freak about it.
"My senior year, when Matt comes in as a sophomore, I remember him throwing the ball to our other receiver. I came back and gave him a hard time about it, like, 'Dude, just throw me the ball.' I'm thinking he's just going to look at me like, 'Yeah, OK.'
"He grabbed my facemask and was like, 'No, I'm going to throw the ball to who I want to throw it to.' The origin wasn't so much he's clutch and cool as ice. It was more like it's the Iceman, he's all business. It's his way or the highway."
There is another story, one that nobody would verify but has taken on urban legend qualities. Matty, the nickname his football coach gave him, does rhyme with an inexpensive alcoholic beverage preferred by cash-strapped high-schoolers.
"We were pretty well-behaved, our group, so I don't know exactly where that came," Hitschler said.
"It wasn't a moment where Matt Ryan is sitting drinking a Natty Ice and that's how it came about," McKinney said. "I can't give credence to a story where Matt was doing something Natty Ice-related and that's how the name got to him."
No matter how it happened or why it happened, Matty Ice supplanted Matt Ryan in the hallways at Penn Charter. On any given weekend, Matty Ice showed why. There was the time the school's highly ranked basketball team trailed at halftime to an overmatched opponent.
"Matt steps up at halftime, basically told us all, 'I've got this,' and he went out and scored 20 points in the second half and had a big dunk," McDevitt recalled. "Matt wasn't the biggest dunker, but he threw one down and got the rest of the team on another level."
Penn Charter won.
There also was the time the football team was playing for the league title against Malvern Prep. Penn Charter led 21-14 in the mud. With time running down, Malvern Prep was driving to tie it up. Rick Mellor, the baseball and defensive backs coach, decided he needed Matty Ice to help. "No hesitation," Mellor said.
"He hadn't practiced all year on defense and with 30 seconds left -- he was one of our best athletes, it's the league championship game -- we put Matt in at safety," Hitschler recalled. "He ran on the field to play it, and he knocked two Hail Mary balls down and helped us win the game. That's just an example of him being that clutch ice guy."
Despite his athletic talents, Ryan was a fairly overlooked quarterback in the Class of 2003. A three-star recruit, he signed with Boston College in part because his uncle John Loughery played there. A write-up in the Boston College student newspaper on national signing day that year listed a few of Ryan's high school stats and his 40 time (4.8). No mention of Matty Ice. His first nickname with the Eagles was something else entirely.
"He was this skinny guy who had no muscle definition. Just your average-looking quarterback, and he looked like Coach [Tom] O'Brien, so people would tease him about that," said Ryan Poles, a Boston College teammate who is now one of Ryan's best friends. "As freshmen, we had to sing in front of the team. They all called him 'Little OB.'"
Little OB was still Matty Ice, and pretty soon those in Boston -- and eventually around the country -- would see what everybody at Penn Charter saw. But how the nickname itself made its way from Philadelphia to Boston remains shrouded in mystery.
"That's the only question I don't have any exact information on, so I'm going to do research," said Barry Gallup, who has spent 37 years working with Boston College football.
"When people went up and visited him, that's what we all called him, Matty Ice, so they definitely picked it up from us visiting," said Colin Hitschler, another former Penn Charter teammate.
"We had a bunch of fourth-quarter comeback wins, and so it picked up around campus," Poles said.
"I believe it was his sophomore year -- they were playing a game at Clemson and he took a hit to the sternum that looked like it would have killed 99 percent of the people this happened to," said Steve Logan, Boston College offensive coordinator in 2007. "It was an absolutely unbelievable hit, and they picked him up and carried him off, and he came back the next play and finished the game."
Ryan started that game in 2005 in place of injured Quinton Porter, just Ryan's second career start. To win on the road in Death Valley, and to do it after appearing to get seriously injured -- that was only the start of his many Matty Ice moments at Boston College.
Ryan paid the price. Poles remembers Ryan "was coughing up weird stuff" for days afterward in their dorm room. They still talk about that hit when they get together, and Ryan always says, "A hit like that is not enough to bring me down."
He earned the respect of his teammates, but when Porter returned from injury, Ryan went back to the bench. Three games after the Clemson victory, it was Ryan to the rescue again. Trailing Wake Forest 30-21 with 3:29 remaining, Ryan led an improbable 35-30 comeback victory, going 7-for-9 for 134 yards and two touchdowns on the final two drives.
Ryan thought he had done enough to win the starting job, but O'Brien went with Porter the following week against Virginia Tech, and then against North Carolina. Ryan was seething.
After being called on again to relieve a struggling Porter against the Tar Heels, Ryan lost his cool on the sideline -- essentially announcing to the coaching staff enough was enough. Matty Ice would not be going anywhere.
"You've probably seen him fired up where he's locked in," Poles said. "I remember him coming up basically saying, 'What else do I have to do?' I was still young and it gave me goosebumps. I remember everyone being like, 'It's over. This kid is going to take this team over, and we're going to do some special things in the ACC.'"
Ryan was named the starter the following week. The Eagles won their final three games to end the season.
Matty Ice was only just getting started. The nation would soon clue into the player simply known as "Ice" in the locker room during his rise in 2006 -- when he played half the season with a broken bone in his foot -- and then into his magnificent 2007 season, when Matty Ice announced himself beyond Chestnut Hill.
Boston College began the season 7-0, moving all the way to No. 2 in the BCS standings. Though Ryan had become more well-known, the Eagles had played only one ranked team to that point in the season. Skepticism remained, but a huge opportunity awaited: a nationally televised game against No. 8 Virginia Tech at hostile Lane Stadium.
"Here's what I remember," Logan said. "My philosophy has always been: I want to throw it so I can run it. When I walk out and it's raining sideways, I get sick to my stomach. We floundered and screwed around the first half. Bud Foster is a great defensive coordinator. Bud was giving me fits, the weather was giving me fits."
Virginia Tech led 10-0 into the third quarter. Then it stopped raining. Ryan started getting into a better rhythm. His receivers stopped dropping the slick footballs. Ryan threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rich Gunnell with 2:11 left to pull the Eagles to within three points, 10-7.
"I ran a terrible route, and he threw a great ball," Gunnell said. "Earlier in the game, I ran a similar route, and the ball hit me right in the face. It was raining and I didn't have my visor on. I blinked for a second, and the ball hit me in the face, so I should have had had two touchdowns. This one I caught."
Boston College recovered the onside kick, and Ryan led the Eagles down the field. With 27 seconds remaining, he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Gunnell. But it was called back because of holding.
"I was in the press box calling the signals, everybody was going crazy and I told [receivers coach] Ryan [Day], 'Settle down, we're going to hit it again,'" Logan said. "That's what it's like coaching Matt Ryan. I didn't even blink."
"His ability to handle adversity ... that's how he got the name Matty Ice," Gallup says.
Ryan ultimately won ACC Player of the Year honors and finished seventh in the Heisman voting before going No. 3 overall to Atlanta in the draft. He is mentioned in the same breath as Doug Flutie among Boston College faithful, and this past November, the university retired Ryan's No. 12 jersey.
That the ceremony happened two months before Ryan made it to his first Super Bowl, "You couldn't have written it any better," Gallup said.
Same goes for that nickname.