NFL

Super Bowl-bound Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was injured in a horrific car crash that almost side-lined his career

Super Bowl-bound Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was injured in a horrific car crash that almost side-lined his career – and cost his brother his own NFL dream

Quarterback Matt Ryan will take the field in Sunday’s Super Bowl knowing his multi-million-dollar high-flying career may never have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for a few inches.

That is all that separated the Atlanta Falcons star from life-changing injuries that would have ended his football career before it even began.

If Matt, rather than his older brother Mike, had been in the driver’s seat when their Volkswagen Jetta was rear-ended and pushed in front of an oncoming military convoy, he would almost certainly would have never gotten the chance to play professional football — let alone be ready to battle megastar Tom Brady on the sport’s biggest stage.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will take the field in Sunday's Super Bowl knowing his career may not have gotten off the ground if it wasn't for a car crash fifteen years ago

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will take the field in Sunday’s Super Bowl knowing his career may not have gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for a car crash fifteen years ago

It's all in the family for Matt Ryan and his wife Sarah, (at left). Brother Mike Ryan is married to Sarah's sister Maggie (couple at right). T he crash cost Mike his dreams of playing in the NFL

It’s all in the family for Matt Ryan and his wife Sarah, (at left). Brother Mike Ryan is married to Sarah’s sister Maggie (couple at right). T he crash cost Mike his dreams of playing in the NFL

The crash site: Matt and Mike, were hit in a rear-end collision on Ridge Road (above) that spun their car around into an oncoming military vehicle on their way to the Kimberton Golf Club in  2001 

The crash site: Matt and Mike, were hit in a rear-end collision on Ridge Road (above) that spun their car around into an oncoming military vehicle on their way to the Kimberton Golf Club in  2001

The accident happened two days after Matt Ryan turned 16. He and Mike, back-up quarterback at Widener University in his freshman year, were turning left on their way to play golf at the Kimberton Golf Club near their family home in Exton, Pennsylvania.

As they pulled up to make the turn on narrow two-lane Ridge Road, their car was hit from behind. Coming the other way was a convoy of US Army vehicles.

‘I kind of remember seeing them come — and then getting hit from behind,’ Matt, who suffered a broken ankle from which he fully recovered, told USA Today in 2008.

The impact propelled the Jetta into a military fuel truck that was thankfully empty. Ryan remembers a second impact then the feeling of spinning around and around — but nothing else.

Though he doesn’t recall it, Matt acted heroically in his daze. He leapt out of the car just as the Jetta’s engine caught fire and tried to put out the blaze with his jacket. He wasn’t successful but a fire extinguisher from the convoy did the trick.

Rescuers had to use the Jaws of Life to get his brother out.

The brothers have always been close - Matt's wife Sarah (pictured with Matt) and Mike's wife Maggie grew up as Patriots fans until Matt was drafted by the Falcons

The brothers have always been close – Matt’s wife Sarah (pictured with Matt) and Mike’s wife Maggie grew up as Patriots fans until Matt was drafted by the Falcons

Mike, 35, met Maggie (pictured together) after Matt and Sarah started dating and soon fell in love, their father, Mike Sr. told DailyMail.com

Mike, 35, met Maggie (pictured together) after Matt and Sarah started dating and soon fell in love, their father, Mike Sr. told DailyMail.com

Then Boston College quarterback Ryan celebrates his teams 24-19 win over Florida State, in 2006, in Tallahassee

Both brothers were wearing seat belts which almost certainly saved their lives, but Mike’s hopes of making it as an NFL star ended on that May day in 2001.

He never played quarterback again.

Mike — known by his family as ‘Motts’ — suffered a concussion and a shattered elbow among other injuries. The elbow injury took five operations to repair, and even then it was nowhere near strong enough to let him continue his dream of making it into the pros.

But for Matt the accident changed his perspective and led to his famously unflappable demeanor that has earned him the nickname ‘Matty Ice.’

‘You realize that nothing is guaranteed,’ he said. Your future isn’t guaranteed. It’s very up in the air.

‘With that in mind, you enjoy things more.’

And his brother’s words helped too. ‘His advice to me was to come to compete and enjoy it because the opportunity can be taken away.’

Mike and Matt Ryan have always been close — Mike’s wife Maggie and Matt’s wife Sarah are sisters who grew up in Falmouth, Maine, as fans of Atlanta’s Super Bowl opponents the New England Patriots.

Sarah was considered one of the state’s best-ever high school basketball players leading her high school to back-to-back state championships and going on to Boston College where she met her future husband.

‘I was 100 percent a Patriots fan,’ she told the Portland Press Herald.

‘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,’ added Sarah, now sponsorship sales consultant for the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.

Mike, 35, met Maggie after Matt and Sarah started dating and soon fell in love, their father, Mike Sr. told DailyMail.com.

Now the Falcons  are up against Tom Brady (pictured) and the Patriots, who have reached seven Super Bowls since the Falcons were last there — winning four of them

Now the Falcons are up against Tom Brady (pictured) and the Patriots, who have reached seven Super Bowls since the Falcons were last there — winning four of them

Brady's supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, posted this snap on Instagram congratulating her husband on heading to the Super Bowl

Matt Ryan and Tom Brady face off for Super Bowl LI in Houston
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