Keefe To The City: Rise Of The Jets

Following the Yankees early exit in the 2006 ALDS, and the rise of the Mets in their near trip to the World Series that season, I was legitimately worried that maybe, just maybe the landscape of baseball in New York City was starting to change in favor of the Mets.

That season, the Mets had produced the same record as the Yankees and had now advanced into the championship series of their league while the Yankees were home wondering how Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman embarrassed them, and also wondering whether or not Joe Torre would be back in the Bronx in 2007. While the Yankees had become a team overpopulated with “me first” personalities and a tabloid’s dream, the Mets had become the better baseball team for at least one season.

The Mets’ position as the talk of the town was short lived and lasted only about a week before the Cardinals ended their season. But that one week was scary enough that I started to envision life as a Yankee fan and a second-rate baseball citizen in the tri-state area. Luckily, the Mets lost Game 7 of the 2006 ALCS, collapsed in 2007, collapsed again in 2008 and had the season they did in 2009 and again this year to restore order in the baseball world in New York City and make everything right again.

Last season I began to watch a similar shift in power in the NFL with the area’s football teams. While the Giants were busy blowing a 5-0 start to the season and giving up 74 points a game, the Jets went from AFC East losers led by the class clown all the way to the AFC Championship Game completely changing their team’s future and how they are perceived in the sports world.

Here were the Giants, just two years removed from the greatest Super Bowl win in history, limping to an 8-8 season with the worst secondary to ever take the field and a pass rush that didn’t fully understand the concept of “rushing the passer.” And here were the Jets, perennial heartbreakers, whose stock was suddenly skyrocketing as they became the George Mason of the NFL postseason by creating a personality and identity that the Giants had lost since their Super Bowl win.

The problem with the pre-2009 Jets is that they were just an unlikable team – at least to me they were. Aside from Fireman Ed and a crowd that continues to make opposing fans fear for their life, there wasn’t a whole lot to like about the Jets. I’m not sure any kid or sports fan in the area without a favorite football team and looking for one to like would have adopted the Jets and called them their own before last season.

Now, when you look at the Jets roster it looks like one of the two rosters for the Pro Bowl. It’s full of superstars and household names. They have a coach that might be the most likable and entertaining in professional sports, and a franchise quarterback who makes it hard not to like him. It’s all these reasons why as a Giants fan, the Jets intrigue me. No, I am not a Jets fan and will never ever switch sides, but I fully understand why that same person searching for a football team to like that I just talked about would choose the Jets over the Giants right now.

The Giants would never let HBO document their training camp for Hard Knocks. They would never expose themselves or prostitute themselves as a sideshow to become a TV program for fans to watch uncensored, and I understand that and I support that. But with the Jets building their brand on the field and off the field, all the Giants can do to make sure they don’t concede their superior ranking in NYC football is to produce wins on the field, and after the way last season finished, I’m not sure how many wins we can expect from this team.

The new-look Jets are why I was more excited for Hard Knocks this season over any previous season in the show’s history. From the moment it was announced that the Jets would participate on the show, it was almost as if they started building their roster accordingly. Just following Rex Ryan and listening to Bart Scott would have been enough, but by adding LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie and including the storyline of the most important contract negotiation in the AFC East and maybe the NFL, it’s almost as if the show became as scripted as Friday Night Lights.

The first episode of Hard Knocks on Wednesday night was as good as advertised. If you missed it, here are the three men responsible for stealing the show in the first hour of what will be the most memorable season of the series.

Rex Ryan

There are going to be a lot of people that watch Hard Knocks simply to see what Rex Ryan is like outside of his comedic press conferences and aside from his extravagant Daily News and Post headlines. After watching Rex freely make fun of his in-laws in the opening minutes of the show, you just knew he was going to make the most of this opportunity to have a camera and censor-free microphone in front of him for training camp.

In the show, Rex Ryan appears to be an actor rather than an amusing and overweight NFL coach. Some of his lines and actions seem a little over the top and rehearsed, the same way that the cast of Jersey Shore now plays up their personas to fulfill the roles of the celebrities they have become rather than be themselves like they were in the first season when the show gained popularity. (Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to watch Jersey Shore no matter how fake the cast becomes, just like I would watch Hard Knocks even if Rex Ryan were reading off cue cards.)

I think the pre-camp meeting was the best example of Rex being a head coach that knows there is a camera recording him. Rex made it clear that he wants his team to lead the league in the wins, but it was almost as if he was trying force every last swear word he could into this scene, so that fans would come away from Hard Knocks and say, “Wow, Rex Ryan is a badass.” But if you take away Ryan’s HBO vocabulary from that meeting, it definitely wouldn’t have passed through the final cut. A power point presentation on Day 1 of camp for NFL players? What player would pay attention to that? It was almost as if someone recorded the first day of class from each semester of college when the professor would just stand there and read the syllabus word for word before you letting you go early. Not exactly captivating TV without Rex trying to break the South Park movie’s record for most swears in one scene.

Rex has reached a point in my life that not many other people can achieve: the point where I could watch Rex Ryan do just about anything. It’s such an elite club that I can’t even think of another person on this list. Whether it’s trying to drop 37 F-bombs before taking a breath, wearing Chuck Taylor shoes given his body type, eating a lunch big enough for a family of four at Cafe Ryan, throwing footballs, punting footballs or just standing around making small talk, there isn’t anything Rex Ryan can’t do that wouldn’t be compelling. I only wish Tom Coughlin could be half as likeable as Rex Ryan.

Rex will never have trouble finding a job in the football world, which is disappointing, because the man could carry his own reality show. And like a lot of other people, I would watch every second of it.

Darrelle Revis

Rex Ryan and the Jets tagged Darrelle Revis as the best player in the league last season, and maybe he is because I’m not sure if anyone other than the best player in the league could take up as much air time as Revis did in the first episode, despite not even being at camp.

There is no chance that Woody Johnson likes watching Rex and the other Jets talking about Revis constantly throughout the show as they further instill the notion that the Jets need Revis to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. It can’t be good for Woody’s negotiations and his stance on not budging on a new contract for Revis when every Wednesday night for the rest of training camp, you have other members of the Jets reminding Jets fans that, “Hey Woody, we really, really need Revis to come to camp, so how about you give him that money?”

I have been torn on both sides of the Revis contract talks. On the one hand, he did sign this contract and he is obligated to live up to his end of the deal, whether or not he has become the player he has since he initially signed. But on the other hand, he does deserve more than his current pay since there are a handful of Jets defensive players making more than him. Like Mike Francesa says, if Woody is going ask fans for every dollar they have to purchase PSLs to attend Jets games, how can he turn around and say he won’t use his own money to sign “the best player in the league?”

It’s time for Woody to pay up.

Joe Namath

Joe Namath appeared in the first episode for maybe two minutes, but every bit of those two minutes was entertaining.

Joe doesn’t exactly look like the guy I grew up watching on TV telling me to shop at “Nobody Beats The Wiz,” but eventually living life as Joe Namath and also as Broadway Joe was going to take its toll.

Namath was genuinely pissed off when Mark Sanchez fumbled during the goal-line drill in the rain, and it set him off, causing him to tell the Jets and Sanchez that Sanchez needs to change the way he receives the ball at the line. Watching Namath speak so passionately about the proper hand technique on the snap and just taking the rest of the coaching staff to school in the film room was like watching Shooter draw up plays in Hoosiers while everyone stood around knowing that the man talking knew more than anyone else, but not being absolutely sure if the man talking was still all there.

When Namath said he “had a good time on the field, but off the field it was all work,” before uncontrollably laughing, he came close to breaking into my Top 5 Athletes I Wish I Could Drinks Beers With For An Afternoon And Listen To Stories While In Their Prime list. The Top 5 is currently Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Jim Kaat, Bobby Orr and David Wells, but Broadway Joe is right on the bubble and with another appearance before the end of the season, it’s going to be hard to keep him off that list.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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