CORTLAND, N.Y. — It wasn’t a guarantee by any means, but Rex Ryan expressed his envious emotions regarding the New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin’s ‘super’ bling Tuesday afternoon.
Instead of the gaudy ring that commemorates the ultimate team achievement, he has to live with the Snoopy trophy — a constant reminder of the ‘good grief’ Jets 2011 season that ultimately culminated in a ho-hum 8-8 season.
“I’d rather have that other trophy they got,” he said during his daily press conference. “[We’ll] trade Snoopy for it.”
Whether he wants it or not, the second annual MetLife Bowl versus the crosstown Giants comes a week early and the coveted Snoopy trophy is on the line. And not a second sooner. Much like the timing of their first preseason game against Cincinnati — coming off the heels of a two-day in-team scuffle — this game will be rich in moral fiber for a team looking to find Super Bowl glory.
The Giants-Jets Christmas Eve showdown proved to be the defining game in both team’s seasons — a win sparking the Giants to the Lombardi trophy and a loss that was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Jets. The game, where the Jets hunter green colors emblazoned MetLife Stadium, was one-sided with Victor Cruz’s 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown dropping the hammer on Gang Green’s season.
Their season ended in mutiny. A locker room in a disarray.
Ryan watched Coughlin hoist his second Lombardi and grew green with envy. Prepared to put to rest rumors of losing his team, he sewed together the tears between players. He brought in a “savior” to play back-up quarterback. He took a defense-first mentality in the draft — bringing a promising crop of youthful talent. And perhaps the biggest move of the off-season was the change in their offensive mentality — a revival of Ryan’s smash-mouth brand of football endorsed by Tony Sparano.
Ryan and Sparano are the NFL’s odd couple. Ryan welcomes the spotlight with a boisterous bear hug. Sparano’s boisterous squalls bear the weight of his no-nonsense attitude. The two differ on their interactions with the media with Ryan even admitted he ‘didn’t like’ Sparano. Once available, however, Ryan jumped at the chance to make a comrade out of his counterpart. With a handful of match-ups against each other in which nearly every game came down to the last play, a mutual respect spawned. Ryan believed he had met the offensive compliment to his ferocious style of defense.
“After he became available I was like ‘Oh, hell, yeah that’s my guy’,” he said.
His pieces in place and locker room mended, Ryan has already faced similar problems from last season. In-house fighting — the physical kind, diva-like comments from players (see: Cromartie, Antonio), and the ever-present media frenzy surrounding Tebowmania have drawn local and national headlines and we’ve only reached the second week of preseason.
And thus far, he’s been quick to nip all problems in the bud. He publicly called out Cromartie for telling the media he was the Jets second best receiver. He stressed to the media that Aaron Maybin needed to tone it down in practice. Sometimes he resorted to drills usually reserved for high school antics. Following the team’s brawl that spilled over the sidelines to where the reporters were standing — and players playing “too chippy” for his taste, Ryan forced the team to run sprints.
A move that seemed unlikely in year’s past.
“It wasn’t fun running gassers [after practice], but he proved a point. It was just a reminder that he is in control of this team. When he says something, he means it. There are going to be repercussions for it if you don’t care what he is saying,” Mark Sanchez said.
And with a more aggressive approach, the players have heard Rex loud and clear.
There were no such repercussions for players anonymously questioning Sanchez’s leadership skills, Santonio Holmes’ publicly clashing with teammates or Cromartie calling Tom Brady a “f—ing a–hole”. But this is a different Rex Ryan and that was a different Jets team.
As the days grow closer to their rematch against the Giants — albeit preseason — the Jets hope to shed the “in flux” label that’s been attached to them since their rollover loss to other New York team. They have a lot to prove Saturday — not to the other New York team, rather themselves. Gang Green lines up against the men that know what it takes to reach the promise land and look them in the eye. It will be how they react when they see their faces in the reflection from their eyes that will determine if this team is ready to contend for a title this year.
Should Ryan hoist a second Snoopy trophy on Saturday, it’ll be safe to dub him the “Charlie Brown” of the MetLife Bowl. Brown’s main characteristic is either self-defeating stubbornness or admirable determined persistence to try his best against all odds: he can never win a ballgame but continues playing baseball; he can never fly a kite successfully but continues trying to do so.
Whether stubborn or persistent, Ryan is in good company.
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