Super Senior: Frank Ryan

Published: Mar. 15, 2018 at 1:45 PM EDT
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In his sprawling home in Grafton, Frank Ryan rarely journeys to one corner of the basement.

"Back into this area here -- this is where all the goodies are," Ryan said, leading the way to boxes of memories. "I haven't looked at this thing for years."

He says a lot of it is fan mail from his glory days as a quarterback with the Cleveland Browns. "I remember that game well, I think I threw 5 touchdown passes," Ryan said, looking at one photo. "The year that I -- we won that '64 championship my salary was $18,000."

The Texan started his pro career in Los Angeles and ended in Washington with many injuries in between. "I was beat up a lot physically," he said.

Football wasn't his only talent. He earned his PhD in mathematics in 1965 while he was playing in Cleveland. His upstairs office has photos of his heroes, famous mathematicians.

Reporter Joe Carroll: At the Browns did they call they call you professor or anything like that?

Frank Ryan: Sometimes they tried to pull those things.

Two talents -- brains and brawn.

Reporter Joe Carroll: So you were a professional football player but you were also a teaching professor.

Frank Ryan: Yes, simultaneously.

One photo shows the professor in a sling. A shoulder injury -- the result of football.

Reporter Joe Carroll: You don't regret though, playing?

Frank Ryan: Well it was so much fun playing -- to complete a pass -- I mean I felt so good.

When his football career ended, he stayed in Washington. Ryan designed a more efficient way of tabulating votes in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's still used today.

But football plus math wasn't his only life equation.

Reporter Joe Carroll: What are you most proud of?

Frank Ryan: Marrying Joan.

Joan Ryan: I hitched my wagon to his star.

Frank Ryan: I don't think that.

Hardly. Joan Ryan was a pioneer in her field, a sports columnist who worked in a time when woman had to fight to be allowed in the press box. "I guess I've always been a kind of uppity woman," she said.

She even wrote a book on women in sports. The two Texans met in college and have been married for 60 years. They fell in love with Vermont while Ryan was on staff at Yale. The couple's been here for close to 40 years. Now, both in their 80s, the house is getting a little big. They might go back to Texas. But for now, Ryan has a more pressing matter.

Frank Ryan: I'm dedicated to this problem.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Again, what is it?

Frank Ryan: It's called the twin prime conjecture.

For Ryan the football has long been put aside, but his intellect is still in the game.