By Jason Keidel
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It’s hardly the Clash of the Titans, but it is a titanic clash, pitting the Big Apple’s two pro football teams against each other on Christmas Eve, while you stuff, wrap, and rattle presents under the Christmas tree, roasting real or made-up marshmallows on a real or (WPIX) televised Yule Log.
As if there weren’t enough for us to love or loathe about December 24, the media can actually cover something besides the density of Aisle 5 in Home Depot or where the you can find the best buy at Best Buy, all conveyed from a cluster of pretty reporters and TV anchors who haven’t done their own shopping in years.
We have Jets-Giants (or Giants-Jets, if you feel the former marquee is biased) in the Meadowlands (or MetLife, if you find corporate branding quite exciting). And you can admit it: if your boss hasn’t given you permission to leave the office already, you’re rebelling by chatting up this game, echoes wafting from cubicle to cubicle through a thinning office pool…
And the question from this column is… who would you rather have coaching your team?
Who is Tom Coughlin? Since his appearance and persona is pretty prototypical for a football coach – disciplined, fit, tight-lipped, and often ornery with the press – he is judged largely by wins and losses.
Is Coughlin the coach who led the fledgling Jaguars to the AFC title game in 1996 and the underdog Giants to the Super Bowl title in 2007? Or is he the guy who went 2-5 (in the playoffs) between those runs?
The 2007 season secured his legacy in New York, and justified his gruff, grumpy disposition because winning makes all manner of personality incidental. And it helps that Coughlin beat the unbeatable Patriots and the head coach who made a mockery of the “HC of the NYJ” – all for a Tri-State fan base largely allergic to all things Boston and beyond.
But Coughlin is more flexible than his stiff, red face reflects. Indeed, the ’07 squad started 0-2 and in entire disarray, with Antonio Pierce obscenely blowing an air horn at a female reporter trying to interview his teammates. Coughlin somehow turned that team into a champion, adjusting to the more erratic and eclectic egos of the modern player.
By contrast, Rex Ryan has made his mouth a vital part of his arsenal, making sure you hear him long before you see him. In the typical Ryan refrain – straight from the Ryan Brood, in fact – from old man buddy to brother Rob, Rex seems to think that stating your goals is as important as reaching them.
Coughlin has a very respectable, 140-114 regular-season record (.551 winning percentage). And though he has a much smaller sample, Ryan’s 28-18 record (.609) and 4-2 playoff mark has made him something of a cult hero in New York, cutting against the coaching orthodoxy of understated, deferential mission statements.
And thus, the two coaches on opposite sidelines share little other than their profession.
Ryan is twice Coughlin’s size and sound. They are opposites in tone, temper, and are on opposite ends of the coaching career arc. These final two regular-season games are Coughlin’s chance to not only cherish a long, distinguished career, but to also extend it. Most seem to think that if the Giants miss the playoffs, Coughlin will get the Gold Watch and leave MetLife with a pension plan and some studio job, joining his mentor Bill Parcells in parsing game film.
Rex Ryan is trying to show the world you can shock the world while conquering the world. Ryan goes Muhammad Ali every season for whatever reason. But one of the bigger differences between Ryan and Ali (besides the obvious physical contours and social import) is that “The Greatest” was, well, the greatest heavyweight to wear gloves and Ali’s performance was literally and entirely in his own hands. Ryan relies on too many variables to make so many assurances. But make them he does.
Ryan says he’s not here to kiss Belichick’s ring. He’s here to take over the league. He says his Jets are better than Coughlin’s Giants. And he’s certainly not here to play Big Blue’s Little Brother. And since most coaches are cut out of Coughlin’s, old-school mold, tomorrow’s game isn’t a referendum on coaching styles, really, but on the two coaches pacing, stalking their respective sidelines, coaxing one big win for the Big Apple.
But alas, if Ryan wins, the victory will justify the means. New Yorkers adore character and characters. But when it comes to sports, we worship winners. More than anything, Jets fans are frothing for the very thing Ryan promised them: a Super Bowl ring. Fans want to see it more than hear about it. We’ll soon see if Ryan understands the difference.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Who would you rather have coaching your team? Make your case in the comments below…