During the pinnacle years of the Patriots Dynasty... that period in 2003-04 when they won an NFL record 34 games, set a record with 21 straight wins, went undefeated at home and won two Super Bowls... Pats fans had everything they could ever hope for, except one. A true division rival.
Sure they had some historic clashes against the Colts and the Steelers. But in the NFL, more than a third of your schedule is in your own division, and without those real nasty blood feuds, there’s something lacking.
Granted it’s not the worst problem in the world. I for one never minded playing Death Star to the rest of the AFC East’s Alderaan. It’s just that the regular season is more fun when a worthy opponent comes around on the schedule every three weeks or so. When you feel like your division rivals are run by capable people, coached by pros and they’re going to be bringing their best so you better have your chin straps buckled up tight.
Which was not the case in those peak seasons ‘03-‘04. The AFC East coaching ranks looked like a police lineup on a night when the carnival is in town. You had the incompetent (Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey of Buffalo), the goofy (Herm Edwards of the Jets), and the overmatched (Dave Wannstedt of Miami). It was clowns to the left of Bill Belichick, jokers to the right, and he was stuck in the middle. And while I love winning in all its forms, it’s always more fun to beat a great coach than one who’s standing on the sidelines with that look on his face the dog gets when he doesn’t know which hand you put the baloney in.
So in that way, it’s not entirely bad that there’s been an upgrade in the AFC East coaching ranks. Tony Sparano has been a successful, daring innovator in Miami. Chan Gailey comes to Buffalo with an impressive resume. And Rex Ryan with the Jets? Well for fans of the kind of vicious, no mercy, scorched-earth, NFL border wars that violate every protocol of the Geneva Convention, Rex Ryan is a godsend.
I mean it. Rex Ryan is the perfect foil. He’s a pompous, arrogant, irreverent, classless, mouthy gasbag. And for that I hate the man. Yet for making me hate him, I love him. I love every chin on his chubby little face. Because say what you want about the big buffoon... and believe me I have... no one can accuse him of being dull. On the contrary, he’s like a breath of hot air.
If you’ve been watching this season of “Hard Knocks,” in other words, if you’re not Tom Brady, you know of what I speak. The Jets agreed to be this year’s guinea pigs and give HBO cameras ten times the access that cost Belichick a half a million dollars and a first-round draft pick. That the Jets did this should come as no surprise since they have a head coach who’s turned the space between himself and a TV camera the only place in America more dangerous to be than the space between him and a buffet line.
But I have to admit, Ryan was born to be on reality TV show. He is to “Hard Knocks” what Russell Hantz was to “Survivor.” A chubby, insufferable, overconfident attention whore. But one who backs up his tough talk just enough that once in a while you find yourself actually believing it. In spite of the fact he hasn’t won anything. And someone who, even though you can’t stand him, you can’t turn away from either.
And it’s not like for one second I buy Ryan’s ogre act. Shrex Ryan. I don’t think any of it is sincere. Even the people who think “Big Brother” is genuine would watch Ryan ape for the HBO cameras for two minutes and say, “Now, HE’S putting on an act.” And that preternatural desire of his to play the character of “Rex Ryan, Cocky Football Coach” is part of what makes him the villain we’ve so desperately needed.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a fascination for obnoxious football coaches that borders on fetish. More than half the books I’ve read over the last few years happened to be biographies of famous football coaches. And I learned there isn’t too many successful ones that are normal, well adjusted, average Joes. It’s not a profession for sane individuals. I mean, it’s no accident that the silver football they give away at the Super Bowl isn’t called “The Dick MacPherson Trophy.”
But to me, the operative word in the above paragraph is “successful.” Coaches like Lombardi, Halas, Brown, Stram, Shula, Noll, Walsh, Ditka, Parcells, Shanahan and Belichick at least won a championship or two to justify their abrasive sense of self worth. Shrex flew into New Jersey like the Hindenberg, only with more explosive gas.
In his opening press conference he started trash talking about how he wasn’t going to kiss Belichick’s rings. The season had barely begun before he was robo-dialing Jets’s season ticket holders asking them to come out to the Patriots game and make lots of noise, like a high school coach asking the Booster’s Club to come out and support the kids. After squeaking by the Pats with a one score win, Jets players admitted that game was their Super Bowl. Later in the year after losing to Miami, those same players complained the Dolphins celebrated that game like (altogether now)... it was the Super Bowl. Ryan blamed a loss on his team’s lousy preparation. He cried in the locker room after a game. When the team was 7-7, he apologized to the fans for missing the playoffs. And when the Jets backed into the playoffs against the backups of the already seeded Colts (Week 16) and Bengals (Week 17), then made it to the AFCCG by being the recipients of the Annual San Diego Chargers Postseason Collapse, Ryan and his troops acted like they were the dominant team in the league and this year’s championship is just a formality. And they’ve been talking that way ever since. As have most of the national football press.
Excellent. This is exactly the kind of hubris you want out of a divisional rival. Not incompetence necessarily. Because to be kind here (and I don’t know why I would be) I actually think Ryan can coach. A defense anyway. I admire any coach who develops a system and run it successfully for years and years. And Ryan has been running the same stack alignment his whole career and has been dominant with it through all sorts of roster turnover. Hell, he made a Pro Bowler out of Adalius Thomas, who was such a bust in Belichick’s scheme that he’s now in line to receive Obama Stimulus Package money. So I give T-Rex respect in that regard.
And frankly, I could see where if Rex Ryan were my coach, I’d love the big dirigible. I mean, I’ll die before I surrender my allegiance to The Hooded One. But then again, New Englanders tend to be fat, obnoxious, self-important blowhards, just like Shrex. Which only makes him a better villain in my eyes. That might sound strange, but it’s like Belloq says to Indiana Jones: “You and I are very much alike... Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.”
So again, I can’t stand Rex Ryan. I think he’s a phony, potty-mouthed, socially awkward fraud who swears a lot because he thinks it makes him sound cool. He’s like an older, slightly fatter Eric Cartman. But like Cartman, I can’t stop paying attention to him either. Because he’s the best, funniest, most entertaining villain we could ever hope for.