His outlandish comments and jawing made him the stuff of legends, but Jets head coach Rex Ryan proved his class on Monday, not by what he said, but by what he didn’t say.
With the Jets set to open the season on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the quiet respect from the usually talkative Ryan resonated with a greater New York City area which still has not fully handled the tragic losses that day.
For those like me, whose father worked a stone’s throw away and who was in that cloud as concrete and metal came fell, it will be a day to quietly thank God that life is given and preserved and a time to remember those who did not walk away from that day, those whose memories continue to inspire.
Following the lead of his twin brother, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, it was a somber Rex Ryan on Monday afternoon during his press conference, downplaying the regular season opener against Dallas. After all, it only seemed natural that Rex Ryan would once again lob barbs at his twin, much like he did last year. The Jets head coach grabbed headlines when he mimicked his brother’s Bruce Villanch look in the days leading up to the game in Cleveland last fall, when Rob Ryan was defensive coordinator for the Browns.
Rex Ryan put a pillow under his sweatshirt, added a blonde wig and donned a Browns hat and for his midweek press conference. The nation laughed and Rex Ryan’s imitation was backpage fodder.
But this time it wouldn’t be right, and a coach who seemingly lives for the laugh acknowledged the seriousness of it all.
“America’s Team” coming to MetLife Stadium to open the season, on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., calls for a measure of seriousness. The quiet tenor is even more apropos considering that the site of the most horrific attack from that day is mere miles from Sunday night’s game. Rob Ryan hinted to the media on Monday that his brother would downplay their rivalry and that the trash talking would be muted.
“Usually, it’s [going] against my brother and all that and you have a lot of fun with that, but obviously I feel it’s different, like a responsibility,” Rex Ryan said. “I don’t know, it just feels different to me. The significance of it, I think it’s stronger than any game I’ve ever felt. I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I’ve ever coached, it seems like.”
Rex Ryan has given us his fair share of comical moments, coupled with more hyperbole and exaggeration than any human being should be allotted in a lifetime. But as this nation, and in particular New York, inches towards this moving Sept. 11, the brothers are right to temper things in reverence for the victims of the day.
In the days after the attacks, we collectively sought answers. It was sports that helped us return to some semblance of normal — that helped heal and bring us back together again. The sight of athletes taking to the field, many carrying American flags and wearing hats in tribute to the fallen firefighters and police officers, blended the poignancy of the moment with our desire to step forward again.
We helped bind together the wounds of that tragic day 10 years ago through sports, and now the Ryan brothers help us remember that sports is just that and nothing more.
“It’s crazy what everybody went through and I think everybody remembers where they were on that day,” Rob Ryan said. “It’s a big deal and we have a big game to get ready for, and obviously for the country it’s an extra special day for sure.”
After a promotional luncheon event last week, the Jets went to Ground Zero to spend time on the grounds as the site readied itself to commemorate the day. The point hit home with a number of the players on the team. That ripple carried itself into the concerted effort from both of the Ryans to keep the focus on the moment and not on themselves.
But more than anything either brother has said or done, and the chapters which surely will be written for years to come in this rivalry, Monday reminded us that though we may live and die every weekend with the way a ball bounces on the field, there are things far more important than football.
We have Rex and Rob Ryan to thank for reminding us of that.
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.