NFL: Ryan is all bluster

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2011

By Bill Reynolds
The Providence Journal
The road to the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots now goes through Jets coach Rex Ryan’s mouth.
Isn’t it only fitting?
Haven’t the Pats and Jets had this date for a long time, ever since “Sexy Rexy” first came to the Jets and immediately said he wasn’t coming to New York to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings?
Wasn’t this the gauntlet he threw down right from the beginning, all about the Jets overthrowing the Patriots?
Now he gets his chance.
But a funny thing has happened to Ryan the past few months. It’s become more complicated.
Two years ago he arrived like some gust of wind sweeping away all the litter. In many ways he was the anti-NFL coach, a breath of fresh air in a profession where too many others lead with clich/s and go out of their way never to say a disparaging word, or at least anything that’s going to end up as bulletin-board material.
So he wore a blonde wig at a press conference to make fun of his brother. He joked around, unlike most NFL coaches who treat press conferences with all the gravitas of President Obama. He let the cameras into training camp for HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” complete with his command that the players “have a … snack.”
He is loud, brash, profane. He has become larger than life, which maybe says as much about us as it does about him. Regardless, he has become a star, because in this culture where there is nothing too outrageous, nothing too over-the-top, he is a man who speaks with no filter.
Or maybe it’s this simple: whatever flashes across his mind ends up in the New York tabloids.
And there’s no question he’s great copy.
Last week it was his assertion that Tom Brady not only didn’t prepare as much as Peyton Manning, but that he also got more help from Belichick than Manning got from Jim Caldwell, as if that’s supposed to matter. This week it was him saying that this game is essentially him against Belichick, as if all the players are just props.
“This week is about Rex Ryan against Bill Belichick,” he said. “I recognize he’s the best, but I’m just trying to be the best (today).”
Then again, two weeks ago it was all about foot fetishes, so maybe things are getting better.
There’s no question he made the Jets better, made them relevant again, made everyone start to look at them differently. In his two years there he’s 23-13 with two playoff appearances and three road playoff wins.
But you know what?
There’s a fine line between colorful and clown.
And right now Ryan is walking along it.
He certainly looked like just another coach with no answers back there in early December when his Jets were on the wrong end of a 45-3 shellacking. That night he was just another coach on the sidelines praying for the game to end.
All the one-liners?
All the tough talk?
As buried as the Jets were that night.
Now he’s put himself out there at the end of the plank again.
That’s Ryan. It’s what he knows. It’s what he does. It’s who he is.
So it shouldn’t be real surprising that he was doing it again this week. The other day he was dissin’ Brady for going to see the Broadway play “Lombardi” on Saturday night instead of watching the Jets-Colts game, as if that has anything remotely to do with today’s game. Maybe he should be more concerned with trying to get his own quarterback ready to play a big playoff game in Foxboro, where the odds are he won’t play well.
Because here is another Pats-Jets game, and Ryan is walking along the high wire, out there by himself without a net.
There’s no question Ryan has made the Jets better. The record tells us that. He’s also raised expectations, to the point that anything other than the Super Bowl for the Jets is going to be perceived as failure, a referendum on both Ryan and his approach.
That’s the flip side of his big mouth.
The big mouth that the Patriots now must get through on the road to the Super Bowl.