FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP/WFAN) – Here’s a four-letter word everyone’s using these days: J-E-T-S.
When it comes to juicy story lines and colorful personalities, the big-talking, foul-mouthed New York Jets have the perfect cast of characters.
Made for TV? No bleepin’ doubt about it.
“This is who we are,” said Rex Ryan, the Jets’ brash and unabashed coach. “Some people are going to like us and some people are not. At the end of the day, we want to paint an accurate picture of who we are.”
Once considered the second NFL team in New York, the Jets are suddenly the most entertaining club in the league – thanks to a surprisingly good 2009, a bunch of off-season moves and, most of all, their turn as TV’s newest reality stars.
Millions of viewers have been getting an eyeful and earful of the Jets this summer on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” The series covers preseason with the team, cuss words and all – and there are a lot of them. Snookie and the gang from “Jersey Shore?” They’ve got nuthin’ on Gang Green.
“There’s certainly a lot of different things going on around here,” says veteran quarterback Mark Brunell, who joined the Jets last month.
Among those things: There’s Ryan and his players saying whatever’s on their minds. A heartthrob quarterback in Mark Sanchez, who’s trying to take the next step to stardom in his second year. Aging veterans LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor looking for one last chance at a Super Bowl. Darrelle Revis’ bitter contract dispute. Braylon Edwards’ bushy beard that became a trending topic on Twitter. Antonio Cromartie’s eight children. A brand-new stadium. A handful of popular players jettisoned. And, of course, all that championship chatter.
Love ’em or hate ’em, people can’t help but talk about ’em, all around the league.
“They’re the team for it right now,” Tennessee fullback Ahmard Hall says. “They have a lot of great personalities over there. They have Mark Sanchez, the Hollywood guy, you know the pretty boy. But he’s a great quarterback. You have Rex Ryan, probably the most outspoken coach in the NFL. Great for TV. It’s great TV.”
New England’s Tom Brady says he can’t stand the Jets so he won’t watch, but hey _ what do you expect from a guy who used to be the face of the league and plays New York twice a year?
“Yeah, we can definitely turn some people off, especially people from some other teams,” fullback Tony Richardson says with a grin. “That’s what happens anytime somebody’s getting hype.”
And that’s something the Jets certainly lead the NFL in right now.
“You look around the league and 31 other teams don’t like it a little bit,” says Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, who led the franchise to its only Super Bowl win in 1969 and appeared in the season’s first “Hard Knocks” episode.
“They’re asking for trouble, in a sense,” Namath says. “You better go out there and put up because they’re going to have to shut up big-time if they don’t keep putting up.”
Whatever happens once the games count, the Jets will start the season with maybe the most interesting collection of personalities since the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, when Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Leon Lett and Nate Newton were making headlines.
“I love Rex Ryan,” said Newton, a former six-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman. “Deion Sanders talks highly of Rex Ryan. I love everything that they’re about, man, but one thing you have to do first is win something.”
Those Cowboys were dominant and disliked, but they also did plenty of winning -taking home three Super Bowl trophies in four years.
“I truly don’t want to be disrespectful – all these are good people, I’ve researched them _ and they’re playing to the cameras, and that’s fine,” Newton said. “But every team that’s been compared to our ’92 Cowboys and our ’93 Cowboys, they haven’t won anything. So if they come out this year and do what they say they’re going to do on ‘Hard Knocks,’ and be who they say they’re going to be, great. … But right now, they’re just another team trying to come up.”
Just a team who’ll tell you they don’t like you, then give you an extra shove for emphasis.
“They’ve just got that little killer instinct in them,” Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley said, “and everybody’s hungry around there.”
It all starts with Ryan. He’s the central character _ a husky, fun-loving guy and the ultimate everyman, a dude who looks and acts more like someone in your fantasy football league than the man in charge of team that finished a win away from the Super Bowl a year ago.
Whether it’s telling the world his guys are going to meet the president after winning the Super Bowl, sparring with opposing coaches and players, or talking about his offseason lap-band surgery, what you see is what you get with Ryan.
“My parents, they told me they love ‘Hard Knocks,”’ Richardson said. “Even my buddies have told me, ‘Man, Rex seems like a guy you’d just love to sit down and have a beer with.’ I think now people kind of feel like, if you had the top five people in the world you’d want to have a chance to sit down and talk to, Rex is in that category.”
While Ryan’s personality is a hit, his penchant for cursing every time he opens his mouth isn’t.
He was criticized by some fans, media, former Colts coach Tony Dungy _ even his mom _ for excessive Rex-pletives in the premiere episode two weeks ago.
“They said he dropped, like, eight? That was a great day,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said with a big laugh. “I was sitting in there like, ‘Man, he’s holding back right now.’ Some might say he doesn’t need all of that to get his players motivated, but this is his team. You don’t tell someone how to run their team. He’s going to run it the way he’s going to run it, and I respect that.”
Ryan doesn’t censor his players, either.
The guys in green and white fill reporters’ notebooks with their thoughts on everything from the AFC East to defensive tackle Kris Jenkins’ weight-loss contest with Ryan and right tackle Damien Woody (Jenkins won).
“People say we love to talk,” Cotchery said. “And, they say we talk a lot.”
That’s just fine with the Jets. They at least have an identity, something the franchise lacked for years.
“That’s awesome, man,” Cotchery said. “They’re taking notice of us, and know we’re for real _ and they don’t like it, and want to shut us up.”
The Jets will be able to start backing it all up when they face another playoff team from last season, Baltimore, in their opener on Sept. 13 – a Monday night game. And just as they are now, everyone will be watching.
“The environment that we have, I think, works,” Ryan said. “This is who we are. We’re maybe not traditional, the way you see other teams, but don’t make that mistake in thinking that we’re less disciplined than another team or anything else. It’s just the opposite.”
AP Sports Writers Jaime Aron in Oxnard, Calif., Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., and Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)