Rex Ryan: the Sarah Palin of the sports world

John Guardiano Freelance Writer
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If sports is a metaphor for life and politics — and it is — then the New York Jets’ head coach, Rex Ryan, is the Sarah Palin of the sports world: National Football League (NFL) denizens don’t like him, but to his legion of fans and admirers, Ryan is an inspirational figure who speaks for them, and in a way that no one else does and no one else can.

The Jets’ masterful performance in Foxboro, Massachusetts last Sunday shows why. The underdog Jets — led by the affable, colorful and swaggering Ryan — brought the beat down on the calm, cool and cocksure New England Patriots.

The Pats, led by their pristine, pretty-boy quarterback, Tom Brady, had been heavy favorites to beat the Jets. They had already done so, after all, in week 13 of the regular season, by a disastrous 45-3 score.

But Ryan, to his credit, took the blame for that defeat.

“For whatever reason, I never had my team prepared the way it should have been prepared,” he told reporters before the game, adding that the Jets’ loss in week 13 “falls right down on me…”

“I recognize that my level has to come up; and [Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick] is going to get my best shot,” Ryan said. “He’s going to get everything I have on Sunday. And if he slips at all, we’re going to beat him.”

And beat him he did — badly. Indeed, Ryan’s nine-point underdog Jets harassed Brady all day, while jamming, bullying and smothering his receivers downfield.

But what do you expect from a coach who, when he arrived in New York, told fans and the media:

I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings. [Belichick and Brady have won three Super Bowls together.] I came [here] to win. Let’s just put it that way.

So we’ll see what happens. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.

Damn straight: Rex Ryan and his Jets aren’t intimidated by anyone!

And yet, as Jets linebacker Bart Scott explained after Sunday’s decisive win, the media had been “disrespect[ing] the Jets all week”: “talk[ing] crap about the[ir] defense,” giving them “no chance,” and acting as if they had “barely made the playoffs.”

But “we’re a good football team!” exclaimed Scott. And “we were… [ticked] off!” The Pats’ defense, he added, “can’t stop a nosebleed!”

Scott talked smack after the game, but he and his fellow Jets also talked a lot of smack before the game.

Jets’ cornerback Antonio Cromartie, for instance, candidly told reporters that he despises Brady because of Brady’s finger-pointing antics whenever the Pats score a touchdown.

Cromartie even went so far as to call Brady a popular euphemism for a donkey. And when asked later if he regretted his criticism of Brady and would retract his statements, Cromartie said, in effect, “Hell no!

Why would I regret [my remarks about Brady]? That’s my opinion; that’s how I feel about it. There’s no reason for me to sit back and take back anything I said about him, and I’m not…

I hope he’ll throw the ball 10 times my way. Make him pay. That’s the only thing you can do.

Ryan, meanwhile, refused to censor or censure his players. “First off, in this country, you’re allowed to have opinions, and all that kind of stuff,” he told reporters.

Obviously, as an organization, we respect Tom Brady; there is no question about it. But hey, is there dislike between us and Brady, and Brady against the Jets? Of course there is…

We’re a transparent organization. We let our guys speak and we don’t try to tell them what to say or what not to say.

Wow, imagine that: a professional football coach who actually believes in free speech, and who lets his players speak their minds without concern for the sensitivities of the media and other guardians of pop culture. Amazing — especially in these politically correct times!

Ryan’s support for free speech stands in marked contrast to the National Football League’s opposition to it. The league seems determined to ban colorful smack talk. Its executive vice president for football operations, Ray Anderson, for instance, warned players last week that smack talk could result in more exacting penalties for illegal on-field hits.

“Ray Anderson reminded players that comments of a physically threatening nature are always taken into account in evaluating discipline for any illegal physical contact on the field,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

In any case, while my more liberal New England friends sulk away in the corner, sullen and depressed at yet another Patriots playoff loss, my conservative compatriots and I are looking forward to next week’s showdown in Pittsburgh!

The Steelers, and especially their defense, are a tougher, more physical team than the Patriots. So this one will be no cakewalk. But as Ryan explains, it’s “on to round three — mission impossible. We came here for a reason. Maybe everyone else didn’t believe [in] us, but we believed.”

Sarah Palin’s fans could say much the same thing, and they do.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.