These are the weeks Rex Ryan lives for and it’s not just because a Monday battle in New England garners the New York Jets coach a bigger audience for his weekly news conference/stand-up routine.
“Few more people in the room today,” Ryan said to reporters on Monday. “[It’s] the way I like it.”
Ryan was soon noting the “obvious physical similarities” between he and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady(notes). Ryan, of course, is still sizeable even after lap-band procedure last offseason. Brady sports a dimpled chin and flowing locks good enough to attract Gisele Bundchen.
Then Ryan held up a magazine ad for NFL attire that featured his wife, Michelle, and noted that now both he and Brady are married to supermodels. They’re practically the same guy.
You’ve seen the clip. It was pretty good stuff. Ryan’s material usually is.
When he isn’t dressing up like his brother, the Cleveland defensive coordinator, prior to a Jets-Browns game, he’s cracking about fast food, bad vacations and breaking down Mark Sanchez’s(notes) latest hunky magazine spread.
“Let’s just be happy it was him and not some of our linemen,” he said last year.
Behind all the laughs and one-liners though, this is what Rex Ryan is all about. Right here, right now. New York vs. New England, both teams perched at 9-2, an AFC East title and home-field advantage in the playoffs potentially on the line.
It’s the biggest regular-season game of the season and that’s exactly the kind of thing Ryan always wanted to be involved in. He’s a funny guy. He’s also a driven, intense coach with an insatiable desire to win. Combine it and you get one of the game’s greatest characters who has proven in a little over a season and a half he can back up every joke.
It was Ryan who showed up as a rookie head coach in 2009 and immediately began lobbing verbal grenades at the Patriots and shoo-in Hall of Famer Bill Belichick.
“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings,” he told WFAN before even coaching a game. “I came here to win, let’s put it that way. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.”
Ryan shrugged at the bravado when it was brought up Monday
“I told the truth,” he said.
The line makes sense now, of course. Ryan has a team that can compete with New England – it was the Jets, not the Pats in the AFC title game last season. At the time though, he was an unproven head coach with a rookie quarterback in Sanchez. New England was, well, New England.
The beauty of Ryan, and one of the reasons his players swear by him, is that he isn’t afraid to put everything – including his own reputation – on the line. If the Jets fail, no one is going to catch more heat than their ultra confident coach.
Football is an all-in kind of game. Anything less is doomed for failure or injury. That’s the player’s mindset. Coaches have to show their commitment matches the players. So when Ryan talks about playoff runs and Super Bowls and wanting to knock off Belichick, it resonates.
Ryan could’ve wound up playing the fool – he wouldn’t have been the first blowhard challenger that Belichick and Brady humiliated. You could say Ryan considered that a risk worth taking, but that isn’t true. Those who know him say he didn’t even consider it risk. It was just him being him.
It’s not a coincidence his players keep backing him up on the field. You get the sense they’d do anything for him.
He’s spent this week reminding everyone of something they don’t need to be reminded of – this is a huge game. There’s plenty of reason to think these are the two best teams in the AFC, yet only one of them will get a first-round bye. And if they match up again – “probably” Ryan predicts – then Monday may determine whether the game is in Jersey or Massachusetts. Besides, this isn’t some friendly rivalry. Brady’s disdain for all things Jets caused him to refuse to even watch HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer.
“There’s no love lost out there between these two teams,” Belichick acknowledged.
With Rex Ryan there are no politically correct lines about this just being another game on the schedule. There’s no pointing out that trips to Chicago and Pittsburgh remain. This is a game he circled last spring and he won’t apologize for it.
This is the fun stuff, why pretend otherwise? His players wouldn’t believe him anyway.
And that’s why, as much fun as the jokes are, this is no clown show. Ryan was born in Oklahoma and as the son of NFL coach Buddy Ryan lived all over America – and even Canada. He’s a natural New Yorker though. He sees the city’s media spotlight and covets it. He says the expectations in New York are always going to be over the top so why fight it? He begs for the big stage.
So it’s Super Bowl or bust. It’s must-see news conferences. It’s let’s taunt the guy up in Boston because New York never takes a backseat to Boston. Three championship rings or not.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
“I think we’re going to win,” Ryan said.
He paused briefly.
“But I always think we’re going to win.”