Jim Brown, considered by many to be the greatest running back, if not the greatest football player, who ever lived, lined up in the backfield with Ryan on every play. I asked Ryan how many times he had handed the ball to Brown.
"A bunch," he said, laughter in his voice.
He had no idea of the number -- the number was unimportant.
What he did remember was the feeling of the moment -- of all the moments:
"The way he received the ball from me, he started in whatever direction he was going to run. He held both elbows close to his belt, and I would hand him the ball in his mid-section. He would scoop it up -- he had a very relaxed way of scooping the ball into his gut, and he'd envelop it, then shift it to one hand or the other, and then he'd take off downfield ... ."
It was gorgeous to watch, for the fans in the stands and in front of their television sets -- and, from the sound of Ryan's voice as he recalled it, it was gorgeous to be a part of.
"Stunning to see," he said.
The glory of what is right in front of his eyes is still what Ryan said he treasures about games. He believes the 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl will be a superb contest between two great teams but, with all the statistics that will be made available before and during the game, he plans to pay attention to none of them.
"Not one iota," he said.
Among the things he does plan to enjoy, he said, is the sight of Colin Kaepernick's passes floating through the air.
"The spiral of the ball," Ryan said. "As you track the ball in the air, the way he throws it, the ball spins on its axis in a way that has no wobble. It's really something to look at. Me, when I threw the ball, it wobbled all over the place."
The math prodigy with the NFL championship ring paused, then said:
"I've always looked at football for its beautiful element."
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