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Hometown heroes. Every city has them.

The term resonates more in small and mid-size towns than big cities. It can be a policeman, a fireman, a humanitarian, but is often used to define athletes.

Being a hometown hero in a city populated by less than a quarter million people probably means a man or woman bearing that label never has to pay for a drink, will always be asked for an autograph when venturing into a public space and will get a sizable front-page obituary when called home to that hall of fame in the sky. Babies are often named after them, in hopes that the glitter dust of acclaim will settle on the newborn.

My birthplace of Spokane, Washington has three certifiable hometown heroes. One was a golfer who gained more notoriety as an entertainer. It’s unlikely anyone who springs from that small community on the Canada and Idaho border will ever achieve his level of fame. Name is Bing Crosby.

Two Hall of Fame athletes from Spokane who were as classy off the field as on it are NBA all-time assists and steals leader John Stockton, and Chicago Cubs icon Ryne Sandberg.

When I return to Spokane about every other year, it’s a certainty I’ll hear an anecdote or update about one of those three men before I leave town. The pride small cities take in folks who achieve national fame is woven into the American fabric. We all love the local kid who made it on the big stage.

The fact that Spokane and its big brother Seattle has far more than its share of serial killers: Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer, the early years of Charles Manson, and more, is something we’d rather not discuss.

As I was watching last Thursday night’s seemingly meaningless NFL game between two 0-3 teams — the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets — it occurred to me that I might be witnessing the maiden performance of another potential hometown hero from Spokane. Bear with a moment while I make my case:

Brett Rypien, who was undrafted after a record-breaking four-year career at Boise State, had an impressive debut in guiding the Broncos to their first win, 37-28, over the hapless Jets. Troy Aikman raved about the kid’s poise in a high-pressure situation.

As Aikman explained, when a quarterback is undrafted and his team has invested so little in him, both in time and money, the window of opportunity to prove that he belongs is extremely narrow. Yet on Thursday, Rypien didn’t act like a guy reacting to a make-or-break opportunity.

While he showed his inexperience with three interceptions, including a pick six, Brett also threw two impressive TD passes with the touch of a Russell Wilson. He was 19 of 31 for 242 yards and looked extremely calm, both in action and on the sidelines. Those of us who have followed Rypien’s career since high school weren’t surprised. As a four-year starter at Spokane’s Shadle Park High school, and four years operating a productive Boise State offense, he set passing and winning records at both schools that will probably never be touched.

He threw for over 13,000 yards at both levels, averaging over 300 yards passing per game for the eight years, was first-team all-state three times in high school, and was the Mountain West Player of the Year as a senior at Boise State.

The bottom line is that Rypien had been a star quarterback for eight straight seasons before being overlooked in the NFL draft two seasons ago. He was probably most known in the league as being the nephew of former NFL QB and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, who is also a certified hometown hero in Spokane.

There are many cases where an unsung and overlooked quarterback went on to stardom in the NFL. Johnny Unitas and Kurt Warner and Brett Favre are three that come quickly to mind. All went from semi-obscurity to Canton, Ohio, and a yellow sportscoat. I realize that’s a far leap to make about young Brett Rypien after just one game. But I’m confident he will have a long and productive career with the Broncos.

And if he does, he’ll never pick up another bar tab in Spokane.

About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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