By Jason Keidel
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Crime is way up. We have no jobs. We are on a high terror alert. And we are in a solemn state of rapid-fire memorials for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
But we have Rex Ryan: head coach, comic relief, and closest thing to the Marvel Comics character, the Kingpin, we’ve seen in our city. Ryan has the hubris, the caustic tongue, and the contours to cast a titanic shadow over New York City, though his New York Jets work, practice, and play in New Jersey and haven’t played in a Super Bowl since they left Queens. Call it coincidence, karma or Schadenfreude, depending on your football allegiance.
Ryan has promised to change the morbid mantras of his team and town, declaring from the jump that “Same old Jets” will have an entirely new connotation by the time he’s done coaching Gang Green.
Ryan has been a blast. He can fill a notepad with quotes, jokes, and gaseous assertions, even if he drops too many F-Bombs for public consumption. But his team plays uber-hard for him and always seem to buy what he’s selling, which is no small task in a league filled with funky personalities and egos stretching wider than his waistline.
Most analysts are nestled in neutral ground, slapping a tepid 10-6 record on the Jets this year, and a wildcard birth behind New England, the presumed winners of the AFC East. Hard to argue, as the Patriots are loaded and have long traded on trading for graybeards, castoffs, and criminals while turning them into solid citizens, if not champions.
And it’s fitting that New England is the speed bump on the Jets’ drive to the Super Bowl, as they seem forever bonded by a football lineage that started with Bill Parcells fleeing Massachusetts for New York and, upon his departure from the Jets, his assumed successor, Bill Belichick quickly quitting as “HC of the NYJ,” which makes the grumpy coach with the homeless chic wardrobe forever a pariah in the five boroughs and beyond.
Ryan’s first order of business was to make his mission statement echo all the way up I-95, parking in Boston. He said was not here to kiss Belichick’s ring. Well, since the coach has three of them, we could go plural with that. But Ryan’s sentiment was sound. You can’t win until you believe you can.
It’s a tough tightrope Ryan toes, a line between confidence and arrogance. He smacks his nemesis with one hand while stroking him with the other, saying he’s not in Belichik’s class as a coach. It was little more than posturing until the playoffs last year, when Ryan’s Jets beat the tar out of a heavily favored team, in their building.
Ryan, like all coaches, will go as far as his quarterback will lead him. As we saw with Aaron Rodgers, who morphed into a singular assassin on the way to a Super Bowl title, good (if not great) QB play is essential. Mark Sanchez (or Sanchise, if you prefer) has been blasted lately because, well, I don’t really know why. He posed for a magazine, and Rodgers saw fit to maim him on radio for it. Quarterbacks, often vain by dint of their pay, their looks, and the appeal of being the leader of an NFL team (which only 32 men on Earth can scribble on their W-2), have swapped sweats for sweaters for photo shoots for as long as I can recall.
What Sanchez has, beyond being handsome, are four road playoff wins before his 25th birthday. And that – forgive the cliché – is nothing to sneeze at. No QB in NFL history has done that, which speaks to Mark’s mettle in the huddle. Maybe the Jets are best served by losing their division, considering how comfy they are with road jerseys, planes, buses, and hotel buffets.
But it invariably comes back to Ryan, who has backed his bombast with appearances in the last two AFC title games. He put himself in a perilous position by being successful so quickly and by telling everyone who will listen that the Super Bowl is the mandate in the Meadowlands.
The jokes, the foot fetish videos, the wig wearing with his brother, are fun when you win. Indeed, Dr. Scholl’s may offer a sponsorship deal if he delivers a Super Bowl win for the fans. But deliver he must.
Ryan surely knows that he can go from fun to bum in – forgive the next cliché – a New York minute. Remember Manginius? The young coach (a Belichick disciple, no less) came to the Jets backed by the bona fides of success. Groomed by Belichick, we called Eric Mangini a can’t-miss. Until, of course, he missed. Then his ornery, borrowed-from-Bill style of secrecy, cloaking injuries, and monosyllabic retorts to the New York media was no longer seen as the template for success.
Joe Girardi struggled with the press when pressed about injuries and such, regurgitating the fiery style that got him fired from the Marlins. Proving to be a quick learner, G.I. Joe adopted a more earnest and honest approach and won the World Series his second year, which, in YankeeLand, gave him about a three-year grace period before he’s expected to win another.
It’s not an exact analogy, but in many ways the Jets are like the Mets and the Giants are like the Yankees. Not only do fans of one almost always love the other, historically speaking, one team is in turmoil and ending hollow seasons in December, while the other wins with quiet, corporate nobility. The Giants have won three Super Bowls since Namath jogged out the Orange Bowl, his index finger wiggled toward the South Florida stars. And I’m quite sure Giants fans remind Jets fans of this. The fact that they also beat the Jets’ most loathed foe (and thus thwarting their perfect season) doesn’t help, either.
Ryan promised to be the equalizer, assuring us he will be Barack Obama’s house guest, sans reelection. He can get away with another playoff run short of the Super Bowl, but after that the clock will officially tick on his tenure. And if he doesn’t make the playoffs, he may want to slap the dust off his résumé. You’d be amazed by how quickly the group hug dissolves in a matter of months.
It feels Jets fans are still spellbound by Rex Ryan, ensconced in a long honeymoon with a man who has led the team a long way, but not far enough. If Ryan doesn’t deliver soon – let’s give him until the 2012 season – his histrionics won’t be so clever anymore. He will go from cherubic to chubby, from worshiped to worthless, and from head coach to an anonymous coordinator for a 1-15 franchise. That wouldn’t be too funny, even to the resident clown of our town.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com