Joe Molinaro just shook his head and looked down at his beer. The Edison, NJ native made the four-hour trip up to Foxborough for Sunday’s divisional playoff game along with several friends. His Jets team has made consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 2000 and 2001 and most of their core is under contract for the foreseeable future.
The future is bright for a franchise known for its futility but few in the parking lot saw the Jets coming away from Gillette Stadium with a 28-21 win.
And true to form for a Jets fan, Molinaro isn’t convinced, even as Jets head coach Rex Ryan spent the entirety of last week saying how his team was on “level ground” with the juggernaut to the north that is New England. Ryan talked boldly about going into hostile territory and delivering a win. The Jets head coach called this the biggest game in franchise history since Super Bowl III.
“I’m a negative Jets fan, I’m just not convinced,” Molinaro said, surrounded by his friends as they waited to head into Gillette Stadium for Sunday’s playoff game. “If they’re lucky, they win this game. They’re not there yet. Sanchez isn’t ready. This team just isn’t ready.”
Fans like Molinaro aren’t the exception, they generally are the rule. Despite the bravado and bluster of Ryan, who talked about this team vying for the Super Bowl this year, Jets fans aren’t quite buying it. That’s not to say that they aren’t pleased to be in the playoffs and aren’t ecstatic at last Saturday’s wild card win in Indianapolis. It’s just that fans used to suffering have grown used to antipathy.
So forgive Molinaro and his ilk, they just aren’t ready to foot the bill for the check that Ryan is writing with comments.
Count Jacob Hack, a Jets fan for 25 years who made the trip from White Plains, in the same boat. Along with father Jay and family friend David Baghdassarian, the three tailgated outside the stadium, dressed in Jets green. The younger Hack isn’t quite sure what to make of Ryan; he likes the Jets head coach and the direction of the team but as a longsuffering supporter of this team, he’s not necessarily comfortable with all this confident talk.
“He’s been great for us, I mean, he’s been a great coach and we’ve won in the playoffs in consecutive years,” Jacob Hack said. “But Rex is a newbie for me. I’ve been following this team for 25 years. Do I think we win today just because of him or something he says? No, I don’t. Do I expect to win today? To be honest, no I don’t think that.”
And Super Bowl talk is something the Hacks and Baghdassarian don’t go anywhere near. There is a recognition by the majority of Jets fans that Ryan is purposefully attempting to inspire and that the words plastered all over the back page of the New York tabloids are merely designed to give his Jets team a backbone in the playoffs. It’s nothing to hang your fireman’s hat on.
Ryan’s penchant for big statements in the past is part of the underlying reason for the skepticism. Jets fans seem to embrace their coach by and large, but there is the sentiment that he says things and portrays a certain angle so as to inspire his team. As such, the green-clad hard core in the parking lot at Foxborough on Sunday weren’t necessarily inspired by Ryan to be there.
Molinaro for one would like to see Ryan emulate Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, known for his quiet demeanor and lack of incendiary comments to the press. While he won’t tell Ryan to stop putting his foot in his mouth, he would like to see the Jets coach “maybe do a little less talking.”
In fact, most Jets fans didn’t think a win was possible against the league’s most dominant team in a place where the Jets have never won under Ryan. Daniel O’Hare of Westchester is optimistic about the future of the franchise under Ryan and is pleased with the progress of a season where the Jets won 11 games in the regular season for just the fourth time in team history. He sees a bright future for the team.
But as to Ryan’s bold preseason words of this being a Super Bowl caliber team, O’Hare looked and smiled, shaking his head.
“I’m optimistic and I think the Jets are going the right direction,” O’Hare said. “But as for anything else, I will just say that I’m an optimistic Jets fan and that’s all.”
Three words that have never been uttered together before: “optimistic Jets fan.” Perhaps Ryan’s big talk is paying dividends after all.
“We’re moving on, ‘Same Old Jets’,” Ryan said after the game. “We’re going back to the AFC championship game two years in a row.”
Perhaps now, Molinaro will be convinced.
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