FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It is brother-versus-brother, but this time, there may not be a laugh reel.
Last year, when New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan faced twin brother and then-Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Rob in Cleveland, the two exchanged jokes and gags through the media. The week leading up to the match-up was a one-liner's dream, with Rex and Rob trading barbs.
This time with the anniversary of September 11th and their father's public battle with cancer, the comedy is being rolled back.
It is the right thing for the brother Ryans to do, despite the chuckles last year produced. It even got to the point in the days prior to the game in Cleveland, Rex Ryan walked to the podium with a pillow under his shirt and a blonde wig on, clearly imitating his twin brother. Rex proceeded to answer questions under the guise of being his brother, a guffaw moment if there ever was one.
But Rob Ryan doesn't anticipate Rex taking too many jabs this time around. The game will be played on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, just miles from the site of the World Trade Center attacks.
"I don't think so. He knows that it's 9/11. He can poke fun and obviously last year that was good for him and I love him, but that's just the way he is. But if he does I'd be surprised here. He knows how important this game is," Rob Ryan said on Monday. "And he also knows that this is a hell of a lot bigger than Ryan vs. Ryan, I can promise you that."
There was no dress-up this time around for Rex Ryan on Monday afternoon during his press conference, as his tone changed when he recounted how he watched the attacks on television that fateful Tuesday morning. 10 years ago, Ryan was on staff in Baltimore and he worried about the well-being of his cousin, Matthew Russo, who was at that time in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Russo was not called to the Twin Towers and has since retired from the FDNY but Ryan noted that his cousin lost a lot of friends on that day.
Now with the Sunday night game just minutes from the memorial site where the Freedom Towers are currently being built, there is pressure as Rex Ryan faces the Cowboys, "America's Team," on what will be a somber day. Especially in a tri-state area that suffered so much loss a decade ago.
"I feel it's different, it's a responsibility," Rex Ryan said. "I dunno, it just feels different to me. The significance of it, it is stronger."
As if that isn't all, the twins will have their father, legendary NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, at MetLife Stadium for the game, even as he battles cancer.
"It's great, I know it's something he's been looking forward to for a long time," Rex Ryan said.
Rob Ryan confirmed on Tuesday that the cancer has spread from his father's "glands" to his neck and he will have surgery in Kentucky in mid-September. This wasn't something that the architect of the famed '85 Bears defense would miss.
"Oh no, he's coming. He'll get his cancer taken out after. That's just the way it is," Rob Ryan said. "It's a big thing for him. It's a big thing for the Ryans."
It is a big thing for the rest of the nation too, especially given Rex Ryan's penchant for the outlandish. Last December, the Jets head coach was at the center of a scandal involving his appearing in a mild-foot fetish video with his wife, something which he dismissed as a "personal matter."
For Rob Ryan, it was anything but "personal" and in fact, was a chance to rib his brother further.
"He is a little freaky, I guess. I don't know," Rob Ryan said. "I like everything about it. My wife, she's got great feet too. She's got everything nice."
For his brother in New Jersey, it wasn't a laughing matter.
"If it is a personal matter then, then it is a personal matter now," Rex Ryan said. "And will be years later."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at http://twitter.com/#!/KristianRDyer
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