He boasts. Maybe you noticed that about Rex Ryan. He cries and he crows and he doesn't kiss anyone's ring. He motivates and he agitates and he calls his quarterback a knucklehead. He jabbers and he swaggers and he ain't afraid of no Colts. Also, there is this. Rex Ryan believes. For all the talk of his bluster and his bloodlines, this is Ryan's greatest gift as a coach. His confidence is bigger than his goals, bigger than his dreams, bigger than his belt. Ryan is certain success is coming, so certain that his players cannot help but believe it, too. He beats his chest, and the players beat theirs, and soon enough, the Jets locker room sounds like a drum corps. Going into today's AFC Championship Game, Ryan is the biggest man in New York. Possibly the loudest, too. He is the single biggest reason the Jets are in the playoffs and the single biggest reason they have succeeded. If the Jets upset the Colts today, he'll be the biggest reason for that, too.
Already, Ryan has said he would be "shocked" if his team didn't beat the Colts. Already, his postseason itinerary includes not only a Super Bowl victory but a victory parade Feb. 9. Showing restraint, Ryan has not reserved a room in Canton. Yet.
To most of us, even those who think the Colts are going to win, this is delightful stuff. The NFL has devolved into one large news conference where head coaches with cardboard personalities repeat each other's cliches. Special teams are important and turnovers are bad and things will be different next year and on and on and on.
Not Ryan. When Ryan talks, you might as well tuck in your toes because he may step all over them. He does not shut up, he does not back down, and he does not entertain doubts.
If you don't think all of this is good for the Jets, you haven't been paying attention. The team that lost six out of seven games this year, the team that is playing with a rookie quarterback, the team that lost to the Falcons and Bills, suddenly has teeth. They play the way Ryan talks, tough and assured and relentless.
In particular, today's game will be fascinating when it comes to the way the Jets defense and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning attack each other. No quarterback is more studious than Manning, and no defense is more creative than Ryan's. If the Jets win that matchup, Ryan will swagger all the way to the Super Bowl.
Ryan said that was going to happen, too. In his opening news conference, Ryan talked about how his team was going to meet President Barack Obama (as in one of those championship gatherings at the White House). He said that if an opponent took a swipe at one of his players, his team would take a swipe at two of theirs (as if he had seen The Untouchables too many times). When the playoff odds listed the Jets as a 50-1 long shot, he said he thought the Jets ought to be favored in every game.
Gee. Does that remind you of anyone? Buddy Ryan, Rex's dad, had an extra portion of bluster, too. Remember Buddy saying, "You've got a winner in town," as he took over the Cardinals? Remember him saying, "I'm doing a hell of a job," when he was asked to evaluate his performance? Remember him taking a swing at a fellow coach on the sideline?
Say what you want about Buddy, but his players loved him, and they believed everything he said, and when the Bears won a Super Bowl in '85, he became the only assistant coach ever carried off on his team's shoulders.
"I think I inherited (his confidence)," Rex said at a news conference last week. "Guilty as charged. I don't try to go out and be who my father was. I've said from Day 1 that I'm not as tough as he is."
The Jets defense, too, looks as if it is a descendant of Ryan's old units with the Eagles and Bears. The Jets rely on heavy pressure, crunching hits (Buddy used to give out bounties, remember?) and smothering the opposing running game.
Ah, but not even Buddy had a ride like Rex did this season. One week, Ryan was proclaiming that he wasn't in the NFL to kiss Bill Belichick's ring. Another week, he was feuding with Miami linebacker Channing Crowder, saying, "I've walked over tougher guys on my way to a fight." Another week, after a loss to Jacksonville, he wept in front of his team.
He referred to Mark Sanchez as a knucklehead. He said he felt "disrespected" when the Patriots threw a late touchdown pass against the Jets. When his team lost to the Falcons in Week 15, he conceded his team was out of the playoffs (it wasn't).
Somewhere along the line, however, the Jets bought in, and it was as if Ryan ate Braveheart for breakfast and Gladiator for lunch. The defense left quarterbacks bruised and bewildered. Suddenly, Ryan was the life of the party. Suddenly, he was a New York kind of guy.
"I think you better believe in yourself, you better believe in your football team," Ryan said. "That's all it is. There's never a disrespectful thing. I don't try to say anything disrespectful to the opponents that we're playing. It's all about our football team and the belief that we have."
By now, the Jets do not doubt. They believe in running the ball, and they believe in blitzing the quarterback. Most of all, they believe in Ryan.
"I was just honest," Ryan said. "I'm not an 'I-told-you-so' guy — until after we win the Super Bowl."