"Oh, he told you about that?" said his wife Joan. "That's so embarrassing."
"It happens to everybody," I said.
"It happens to him much more often than other people. And on any subject. Once he had one on the population explosion. He said he had a blinding insight about it. Then he started carrying Brave New World around with him. One day I wanted to look something up in it and it was gone. He had taken it with him like the Bible or something."
Ryan is hard-pressed to explain, even to himself, the nature of his flash insights, or epiphanies. "I get these feelings but for my life I couldn't even explain 'em or why they came or even what they're about. It's so complicated. I'm not talking about problems that consciously arise; I'm not even talking about problems. I'm talking about things I haven't even thought about and suddenly it's all right in perspective."
Only rarely will the phenomenon be of direct and immediate benefit. "Early in March of last year, I had been working on my [doctoral] problem for over a year and I hadn't got anywhere because there was a certain aspect of it I couldn't do. And I worried with it and worried with it and worried with it. I would worry so bad about it that I would go to sleep at night thinking about this problem. One night, early in March, the greatest thing that's ever happened to me, I lay down discouraged, maybe 12 or 1 o'clock, and time was running out, it's early March and I've got to have the first draft done by the first of April. And all of a sudden it occurred to me how to do this thing. So I popped out of bed, ran over to my office at Rice and worked the rest of the night, wrote down everything. I came back home about 7. That was the only nonabstract epiphany I ever had. All the other ones were so complicated that I'd spend the rest of my life trying to explain them."
Some day Ryan may be able to verbalize his thought processes, perhaps after he retires from pro football and begins a career in pure mathematics, which inevitably will begin with a teaching assignment. For the moment, he is somewhat tongue-tied, caught between the complexities of his own thinking and the intellectual insufficiencies of his listeners. If Ryan tries to explain his epiphanies to a typical audience of sports-writers and football players, the response is likely to be:
So he shuts up and plays pranks; he needles and jokes and plays poker and sometimes oversteps himself and acts impetuously and wonders whether he has done the wrong thing and dies a thousand deaths over his public and private embarrassments. He does not seem to understand the esteem in which he is held by his peers in the NFL, an esteem that was expressed recently in typical football terms by the man Ryan thinks is angry with him: Gino Marchetti. "He's come a long way," Marchetti said. "He has more confidence than he ever did. He's taking more time before getting rid of the ball, and he's more sure of himself. He knows he's good and belongs there. He calls a good game. You can't outguess him because he doesn't type himself." Gino mused and then added:
"I was talking to him once about what he was going to do when he finished playing, and he started telling me. He's a doctor of something I don't even know how to pronounce. I listened carefully and hardly understood a word he said.
"But I'll tell you: it sure sounded interesting."