FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Forget America’s Team.
This one’s for New York.
Jets coach Rex Ryan has been involved in lots of big games during his career: a Super Bowl, conference title games and fierce rivalry matchups. The season opener Sunday night against Dallas on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks tops ‘em all.
“The significance of it, I think it’s stronger than any game I’ve ever felt,” Ryan said Monday. “I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I’ve ever coached, it seems like.”
That’s saying a lot for a coach who has been involved in several tense games, including the last two AFC championships. But with the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., a few miles across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center site, comes a responsibility, Ryan feels, to win in front of a national television audience for the city his team represents.
“I think maybe that’s it,” Ryan said. “This whole region, this whole area. I know it’s football and we’re not talking about life or death or anything like that. I don’t know, that’s kind of how I’m taking it. It’s my job. My job is to get this team ready to go, and we will.”
Ryan, in his third season as coach of the Jets, was an assistant in Baltimore at the time of the attacks. He recalled that he was walking by the office of Pat Moriarty, a Ravens executive, and they both watched on TV as the second plane struck the World Trade Center.
“It was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Ryan said.
He remembered thinking about his cousin, Matthew Russo — his stepmother’s nephew — who was a member of the New York City Fire Department at the time. Russo, who has since retired, was not called to the World Trade Center that day but knew plenty of firefighters who were.
Ryan knows there will be several fans sitting in the stadium Sunday night, and many more at home, who were directly affected by what went on that day back in 2001. That reality is what is motivating Ryan to have the Jets make them all proud.
“I feel, I don’t know, it’s different, like a responsibility,” he said. “Every week, it’s my responsibility to make sure our team is prepared. But I don’t know, it just feels different to me.”
The Jets got an up-close look at the construction site at the World Trade Center last Wednesday, when they took a team trip there after their annual charity luncheon in Manhattan.
“When you go there, there’s a certain aura that you have when you stand there and you just imagine that day and just the chaos and everything that so many families and people went through,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “It just gave you that feeling that you’re special. You’re lucky to be standing on that spot, but at the same time you’re special because you get a chance to do something that a lot of people don’t get to do. But it’s very humbling at the same time.”
It will be an emotional start to what Ryan has repeatedly promised will be a special season, one he insists will end with a trip — and a win — to Indianapolis and the Jets holding the Lombardi Trophy. And it all begins with a matchup against his brother, Rob, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and a team that always has Super Bowl aspirations.
“You can’t ask for a better stage,” wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. “Especially with everything going on with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and playing ‘America’s Team,’ the Cowboys. It’s the first Sunday night game of the year. We’re playing them here. Great organization, great stadium. You just can’t set a better stage for the things that we want to accomplish as a team. We’re just embracing it. I think we’re going to go out and handle our business.”
Already a night loaded with story lines, the game will also mark the official return of Burress, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2008. Burress spent 20 months in prison on a gun charge after accidentally shooting himself in the leg in a Manhattan nightclub, wondering what was in store for his football career.
He’s now expected to be a top receiver for Mark Sanchez, teaming with Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason on an offense that is expected to air things out a little more this season. And, Burress can’t wait to run out of the tunnel Sunday.
“I kind of go over in my mind what it’s going to feel like, but I don’t even know,” he said. “When I get out there, whatever happens, if I shed a few tears or whatever, the world will see it.”
What do you think your emotions will be like watching the Jets take on Dallas in prime time on Sept. 11? Let us know below…
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)