Don’t get me wrong. I love a hard-hitting defense as much as anyone, and I’ll support a winner’s right to talk trash any day. But there was something exceptionally arrogant about those Baltimore teams that fell just across the boundary of what’s acceptable in professional sports. I used to blame the players for this, and to be sure, guys like Ray Lewis are no wallflowers. But I’ve come to realize it wasn’t the group on the field, Dilfering its way to the playoffs.
It was the corpulent coordinator.
I grew up watching what was then the AFC Central: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Houston. But my interest naturally extended to other Midwestern teams, especially when it came to finding NFC rooting interests. Early on in my football watching career, the Chicago Bears had a defensive coordinator who drew my ire. Partly because he was good at what he did while doing for a team that wasn’t mine, but partly because he was, to be blunt, a jerk.
When he moved on to become the head coach for Philadelphia, Buddy Ryan did nothing to win me over, and I spent most of my life despising him. Him, and Jerry Glanville. But that’s another story.
However, I don’t believe in holding the son accountable for the sins of the father, so to speak, and it didn’t initially occur to me to hate Rex Ryan. In fact, he barely registered in my football consciousness until he began to embrace his role as the front man for those Ravens’ Ds. The better Baltimore got, the more insufferable Rex became.
Clearly, when he came to New York, he didn’t leave any of his attitude behind.
If this season of HBO’s Hard Knocks has taught us anything, it’s that Rex Ryan likes to stir up trouble. With a big yap matched only by his physical largess, the Jets’ head coach has become a lightning rod for controversy. And not by accident.
Ryan was the head punk pulling the strings in Baltimore, and now he’s doing so in an even more prominent role, bending the collective ear of a far larger media market. In principle I don’t really have a problem with a guy motivating his troops, but Ryan’s antics are more suitable for Jersey Shore than for an NFL reality show.
I’ve been known to dabble in profanity, and have no qualms about hearing it from others. But Ryan uses it as a spotlight to focus the public’s attention on himself and his team. I’ve come to think that few things please him as much as being the center of attention, and by all appearances, he’s happiest when that attention is negative.
Ryan’s latest shenanigans involve Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. To be fair, Brady himself isn’t all that likable either. New England fans revere him for what his career, and rightfully so. But he has his share of detractors.
Brady stepped into a firestorm when he stated publicly that he hates the Jets– it was a thoughtless comment, because the last thing anyone wants to do is give Ryan more ammunition.
Never one to shy away from an opportunity to make matters worse, Ryan and the Jets jumped all over the comments. When asked about Hard Knocks, Brady said:
“Honestly, I haven’t turned it on. I hate the Jets, so I refuse to support that show. I’m sure it’s great TV. I’m glad people are liking it. But that’s just something that I have no interest in watching. I’d love to say a lot of mean things, but I’d rather not do that, either.”
Now this was perhaps an ill-considered statement to make, but is it any wonder that a quarterback would dislike his team’s divisional rivals? Ryan’s reaction was immediate. Rather than merely using Brady’s words as bulletin board material, he threw them into his players’ faces on an episode of Hard Knocks in an effort to start an on-field fight.
Ryan asked whether Brady’s words would lead to confrontation when the Jets and Patriots play again, directing his comments toward 310-pound offensive tackle Rob Turner. The human tree trunk put it quite eloquently:
“Brady wouldn’t fight me. I’d break his jaw.”
Could there possibly have been a dumber sequence of events? This is professional football, and for all its testosterone-fueled competition, football is a game and a job. It’s not a school playground.
Of course, all of this unfolded exactly as Ryan hoped. It got his Jets some air time, became a point of distraction for Brady and the Pats, and made him look like a tough guy. He’s not. While he has no problems talking big, he also strikes me as more likely to hide behind the skirts of his linemen rather than actually wade into the fray.
Ryan is a tremendous defensive coach and I’ll give him all the on-field credit he’s due, but off the field, he’s a buffoon. I’m sure that many people find him entertaining, but if I was Jets ownership, I’d be embarrassed.
Some view Ryan as a ringmaster. To me, he’s just another clown at the circus.