When Giants Stadium first opened its doors to the Giants on Oct. 10, 1976, Joe Namath was across the Hudson at Shea Stadium, where he was quarterbacking the Jets out of an 0-4 hole. The Jets were eight seasons removed from their miracle victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III and already the franchise’s fortune was wearing thin.
Rex Ryan's loud demeanor has often irritated his opponents, but like it or not, he's in the playoffs (JI Photo).

Since the memorable 16-7 win over the heavily favored Colts, the Jets had played in just one playoff game and lost. Namath, the franchise’s most recognizable star, was also winding down his Hall of Fame career.

The Jets called Shea Stadium home until 1983, where they forgettably closed out their digs with a 34-7 loss to the Steelers in front of 53,996 fans. Their next home would also be the Giants’ home and would bare the Giants’ logo, minus the ten games a year the Jets played there.

The “Meadowlands” as the Jets often referred to it, was sparse of memorable memories for Gang Green. Perhaps it was fitting, that after 33 years at Giants Stadium, the Jets ended up being the team to close out the building in style.

Unlike the Giants, who were embarrassed in their home finale by the playoff-less Panthers 41-9, the Jets gave their fans a reason to celebrate in the frigid temperatures.

With their resounding 37-0 win over the Bengals, the Jets clinched a playoff birth for the first time since 2006. This time however, these are not the “Same Old Jets.”

Those duds would have fumbled away last week’s “win-and-in” opportunity. They would have taken an 8-3 record into late November, only to watch the Super Bowl, division title and wild card hopes trickle away one by one.

From the moment Rex Ryan stepped into the team’s headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. one year ago, he promised his team would not fall under the same spell. This team, especially his defense, carried a brash, new attitude from day one.

“This is a good football team. There really doesn’t have to be a drastic change, but I think you’re going to see a drastic change in some of the style of play, in particular on defense,” Ryan explained at his introductory press conference last offseason. “We’re going to let the fur fly and see what happens.”

Ryan’s masterful blitz-scheming carried Gang Green’s defense to the top of the league and his pledge for an “all-weather offense” has delivered as well. Behind another Pro-Bowl calibur year from Thomas Jones (1,402 yards, 14 TD) and some steady contributions from rookie Shonn Greene (540 yards) and Leon Washington (330 yards), the Jets ran for a league-best 172 yards per game. The last Jets offense to come close to that production was in 1979 (165 yards/game).

Ryan was confident enough in his defense and rushing attack that he could make the playoffs with a rookie quarterback, which he did. Whether Ryan irritated opponents with his outspoken demeanor or his coaching strategies backfired, the man deserves his credit.

Ryan resurrected a franchise that was beaten down after last year’s collapse under Brett Favre and Eric Mangini and has not only made the Jets relevant again, he’s made them dangerous. When was the last time any Jets fan could say that? You would probably have to turn back to 2002, when a rising star Chad Pennington helped the Jets pound Peyton Manning’s Colts 41-0 in the Wild Card game.

The blowout victory seemed like ages ago, and in a sense, it was.

When the Jets hit the field tomorrow in Cincinnati, in what is expected to be below freezing temps, Ryan has a chance to put his mark in his young head coaching tenure. With a win, he would become only the third Jets head coach in the last 22 years to deliver a playoff win.

Many observers have laughed off the Jets’ run to the playoffs due to their 9-7 record and victories over the Colts’ and Bengals’ junior varsity teams, but a win tomorrow will prove that Ryan’s coaching style isn’t just a bunch of hot air.

With eight of 11 starters returning from last year’s defense which coughed up 315 points, Ryan has crafted a unit that has allowed a league-best 236 points. Much of that production has been without one of the league’s premier nose tackles, Kris Jenkins, who was lost for the season in Week Six after tearing his ACL.

Ryan has his players believing in him and he’s got the Jets’ fanbase believing too. With a win tomorrow, the rest of the league will begin to notice as well.
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