If you need any window into why it meant so much for Rex Ryan to tell the world on Monday that the Jets “were better” than the Giants a week before losing to them, look no further than in his book “Play Like you Mean It.”
It was released prior to training camp this past summer. Somewhere in it he notes that it meant so much to him to have changed the culture of the Jets around during his first two years — to have people talking “Jets” in a positive light in the world of pro football.
The Ryan family wears their hearts and heads on their sleeves, but what the Jets organization must now do going forward, once this season DOES officially end, is keep the focus in Florham Park. Rex can keep his essence, but it’s time for the organization to forget about which local team has more fans.
It’s also time to stop worrying about New England, which is going to win 12 games every season anyway.
The Giants were here first, plain and simple. Born during the Prohibition era, they played the game that first ushered in pro football on television – the 1958 NFL Championship game. To many it is known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The Colts won the game, but the Giants were part of sudden death overtime thriller captured the nation, and made them household names.
And it happened just as the NFL began to compete with baseball for the sports fans’ hearts and minds.
The Jets were the laughable Titans in 1960, while those Giants were among the first famous faces of the league. It took until 1969 before the Jets and the entire AFL gained any respect.
We all know that story.
Like the Giants, the Jets ushered in their own era — that of the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Having beaten the Colts in Super Bowl III, the Jets proved that the leagues were on par with each other talent-wise. In Week 1 of that ’70 season came the initial broadcast of Monday Night Football, and you guessed it, Joe Namath’s Jets were in the game, against the Cleveland Browns. Namath gave the AFL club’s admittance into the NFL a stamp of approval. He was a huge star, especially after his Miami poolside guarantee before Super Bowl III. He became the perfect centerpiece for the new night time experiment on Mondays.
So the history is there for both teams. It’s just that the Jets have had only sporadic moments over the last 40 years, while the Giants have been by and large a model of consistency – and, at times, championship consistency.
The joke used to be that people who couldn’t get tickets to Giants games became Jets fans. Maybe part of that was true in the early ‘60s but Ryan doesn’t need to carry that all of that ‘60s era weight with him anymore. He doesn’t have to wear the pain that Jets fans held as second-class home owners in “Giants Stadium,” either.
Rex’s first association with the Jets came as a kid as his dad, Buddy, became the defensive game planner of that upset over the Colts on Weeb Ewbank’s staff.
That’s why when Rex closed out the Meadowlands in 2009 in its final game ever by beating the Bengals to clinch a playoff berth in his first season, it may have meant more to him than just the playoff entry. After all, to Ryan the Jets were family. The fans felt the same way about him.
Finally, the other team of New York via the Garden State had a head coach who wanted to be here and cared like they did about the team. Rex was one of the fans. He got it. He understood the plight. He totally got what it was like to be laughed at and mocked for years, especially by fans of the cross-town team.
Therefore, it was no surprise when he boldly got out in front of the new stadium opening by declaring that it was the Jets’ house and town this time around. He was speaking for the fans.
But though he might think he still has to, Rex really doesn’t need to stand up for the franchise anymore.
The ones who truly live and die with the team know that the Jets have been as successful at reaching the playoffs as the Giants have been since 1998, with each team getting there six times since in that span.
The Giants’ tremendous playoff run and subsequent Super Bowl win over the undefeated Patriots in 2008 skews this fact, but in the grand scheme of things has not lessened what the Jets have accomplished.
Ryan has nothing to prove anymore to Jets loyalists, and especially when it comes to comparing their team to the Giants. Big Blue has been here longer and may have more fans in pure numbers, but as long as the new Jets continue to strive for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, unlike the Leon Hess-owned Jets of the late ‘70’s through the late ‘90s seemed incapable of doing, then Jets fans should be happy.
On Saturday, the “Battle for New York” became a distraction to the very guy who raised the temperature of it. After the humbling 29-14 loss, Ryan admitted that quarterback Mark Sanchez throwing the ball 59 times was not the recipe to success.
Perhaps had Ryan been more attentive to the run-pass ratio, and not so revved up in the emotion of beating the Giants and claiming the “Big Brother” status he had boasted about for more than a year, he might have piloted the ship in the final quarter to his satisfaction.
If you can, try to forget this season, one that seems stuck in mediocrity for Gang Green. No matter what happens during what will almost surely be a wild Week 17, the Jets have no choice but to be what they are in the Tri-State Area now – a very good franchise that should remain as such for the foreseeable future. They’ve earned the right to do so with their own die-hard fans. They should respect the Giants as co-tenants of the building and leave the Jets-Giants talk alone from this point forward.
Their real nemesis will continue to be the Patriots. The Jets have to lessen the self doubt that any failure to catch them in the standings creates. Too often under Ryan, the club has measured its self worth heading into matchups with New England, only to leave with hangover losses.
Last year the affect of a defeat to Robert Kraft’s club was the Sal Alosi-fueled “Trip Gate” loss to putrid Miami, at home no less. This year after the Jets again lost to the Pats in the battle for first place back in November they got “Tebowed” days later, mostly because they were still punch drunk from falling yet again in a big game against Tom Brady. The nightmare in Denver left them at a very pedestrian 5-5 and on their way down in the AFC pecking order, ultimately into a position in the wild card pecking order.
The Jets’ need to over take the Pats in the AFC East is not worth the havoc it perennially wreaks when they fall short. In addition, the Jets should not lose sleep over any scenario that may include a three-game road run to the playoffs.
This isn’t 1980 when Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to the first Super Bowl win for a wildcard entry. It’s 2011, an era featuring touchdown dances and teams that can display flaws, yet still go deep into the playoffs.
Back in the ‘80s it wasn’t just playing the extra postseason game that made it tough on wild-card teams. It was who they had to deal with coming off of one week’s rest. From the Super Bowl’s first matchup in 1967 to 1980, teams that earned the bye week often included the “Purple People” eating Minnesota Vikings, the “No Name” Miami Dolphins, the “Steel Curtain” Pittsburgh Steelers, John Madden’s Raiders and Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, a team still dubbed “America’s Team” despite more failures than successes.
Teams built for the long haul with the core of players in tact for years don’t exist anymore. Aside from the current long-time Steelers and Ravens defensive units and the Brady and Bill Belichick up in New England, dominant units on either side of the ball are few and far between. That’s why having to play an extra game against these new quickly formed clubs en route to the Super Bowl is no longer a death sentence. The extra game is sometimes an advantage for teams who get hot late in the year.
The 2010 champion Green Bay Packers were once 3-3. The Super Bowl Giants of 2007 started out 0-2. The 2005 Steelers were playoff road dogs, too. All three had to win three away from home before earning a trip to the big game. This route is without a doubt daunting, but next to an impossible task? No longer.
By lessening the obsession with becoming more popular than the Giants and altering this goal of having to overtake the dynastic Patriots during the regular season, the Jets can develop a clear and healthy outlook to go alongside a solid foundation that now includes an owner who is willing to spend money and make moves needed to win; a general manager in Mike Tannenbaum who has put together a solid core and a head coach who is loved by his team and fan base and bleeds green and white, even if it is to a fault sometimes.
This offseason, whenever it officially arrives, will be the perfect time to replace tabloid talk about the Giants and Patriots with the following: Determining where and how Sanchez fits now and in the future, improving the offensive line, figuring out a solid concept for the offense that can stay true to for an entire season and gaining a few closers on defense – primarily at safety and defensive end.
This way when Rex tells us that he will “play anyone, anywhere, on any given day” it will pack more of a viable punch.