Why So Serious?

After Rex Ryan took to the press conference podium wearing a long wig and Browns cap, resembling his defensive coordinator brother, the universal reaction was pretty predictable. Some people wondered whether the second year coach had embarrassed himself and placed his team in an undisciplined light. It was a hot topic on the talk radio shows. Of course, the alternate interpretation of his actions was more light-hearted.

The barbs traded between Ryan and the Browns had been, after all, an entertaining sideshow during an otherwise serious week, preceding an intriguing, and pretty pivotal contest, between two hungry franchises.

 Make no mistake, beneath the joking façade; this is an important tilt capable of answering many pressing questions, about both participants. Have the Browns truly been rejuvenated? Is Colt McCoy the answer at quarterback? Can the Jets’ previously vaunted secondary finally get back on track, and will the team in general deliver a complete performance?

Personally, all the superfluous debate about Rex’s comedic leanings was just fine, totally expected. Despite this game being loaded with storylines, a fun diversion from all the predictions and analysis is always welcome. In this day and age, stories really fly by instantaneously. Dearly deceased horses get beaten in record time. Everyone is searching for a fresh angle, sometimes difficult to discover without revisiting the obvious.

I’ve often found myself questioning whether the world needed another update on Mark Sanchez’s inconsistency. But it’s a constantly shifting story, and the fluidity of this entire sports scene can get to be overwhelming. It leads to convenient labeling. Like this coach or quarterback will never win a big game, or this franchise is eternally doomed to failure. The truth is much more difficult to keep track of, and, honestly, can begin to be wearying.

When I started this particular gig, I wasn’t sure what exactly my style would resemble, or how my writing would translate when placed within the context of a consistent workload. I made a promise to myself though, that I would never try simplifying a very complicated sport to suit my needs. In this, I am hardly alone. It’s a grind.

I was actually bleary eyed when I first spotted Rex rocking the wig, up too late with a college paper and taking a Twitter related break. The image really cracked me up. Ryan is not a perfect coach, by any stretch of the imagination. His clock management is sometimes suspect, most apparently against Jacksonville last season, and there’s been a few suspect challenge decisions so far this season. The Jets have been penalized at a surprising rate, and sometimes appear curiously adrift during games, as if searching for a forgotten rhythm. For these disappointments, the man in charge will absorb a large percentage of blame. But at the end of the day, the Jets are 6-2; four games over breakeven at the halfway point, with room for improvement. The AFC East does not feature an overwhelmingly dominant foe for which they must cower in fear. The Dolphins just changed quarterbacks. The Patriots are not impressively ranked in team-wide categories, and have an absolutely brutal schedule awaiting them in the immediate future. Oh, and they traded their best receiver earlier this season. Playoffs…? The Bills just want to win a game. While the Jets haven’t exactly soared through the skies, plenty of teams would trade places with them.

So when Rex was criticized in some quarters for rocking the belated Halloween costume, I understood, but also pondered. I considered an oft overlooked question, in this age of the constant controversy feeding frenzy: When did sports get so serious? Look, this is a multi-billion dollar annual business. Organizations prepare year-round for a season that could secure long term job security, perhaps even iconic status, or abject disappointment. There are dollars at stake, egos to be elevated, highlights to create and champions to crown. And besides the passion and emotion, there’s also the basic risk these players take each time they step on the field. The long-term effects of playing football just may be more dangerous than anyone of us wanted to imagine. What may be a lifetime debilitation for a player, serves as an inconvenience for those following the sport. The entire system may be flawed. And that’s what a player lives with… cheering fans that either possess an icy indifference in regard to their heroes’ health; or simply cannot come to grips with the potential consequences. Piling on the pads is a life coloring choice.

People who dedicate a ton of their time to watching and appreciating sports, especially football? I totally relate. In terms of sheer unpredictability and adventure, not many products can compete. Yet all that aforementioned, deadly serious business listed in the prior paragraph seems to have sucked a bit of life from the proceedings.

 While sitting down to watch a game, the viewer is bombarded by highlights of vicious hits. We get it… And in light of recent realizations its borderline distasteful. When listening to announcers discuss the feats of a talented quarterback, the viewer must stomach cliché terms such as “field general,” and how well the player can, “read a blitz,” and of course, his “leadership.” We get it. Trust me. Wherever coaches are being discussed, the viewer will certainly be educated on “schemes” and “packages,” conjuring images of coaches lurking in the bowels of Stadiums, not unlike the Phantom of the Opera, drawing on a blackboard deep into the night, cackling maniacally. We get it.

The Jets Head Coach contemplates wig options

The joy has been lost, ever so slightly. It’s become more than a game, which is a real shame, because that’s all it was ever supposed to be. Anything can happen. The Giants beat an undefeated Patriots team in the Super Bowl a few years ago because a Special Teams ace caught a deep desperation pass by pressing it against his helmet. The scandals seem to be constant, and they are troubling. But so is the response. We’ve become a rubber-necking nation, waiting to live vicariously through another car wreck, forgetting an imperfect world through an obsession with mistakes made by wealthy, over-publicized people. Where has the happiness gone? Take a look at baseball, for God’s sake, America’s zany, diamond shaped pastime. The Yankees have a huge payroll, and this fact alone seems to send critics into delirious fits of obnoxious incredulity every time they lose. When the Yankees get eliminated from the playoffs, New Yorkers simply attempting to be entertained are treated to terms like “collapse,” and “disaster,” as if the economy just crashed. [Oh, wait, that happened! So much for context…] We get it. We really do.

Negativity is threatening to overtake the sprawl. Back in my younger days, I was a constant critic of ESPN. My qualms were valid, but also fashionable. This is an age of faceless criticism. I don’t care as much anymore, barely do, really. When considered in the context of the sporting marketplace, a network monolith was bound to emerge. They read the market, years ago. Good for them. As the years crawled by, I experienced an unexpected change. I actually started to become a Chris Berman fan. Sure, why not? In an era featuring virtually zero separation between public relation bores and the completely scandalized; Berman started becoming a breath of fresh air, with his ridiculous nicknames, Police Academy-esque sound effects, and his steadfast commitment to an ancient routine. Remember when this was all a good time? A diversion, not spoken in the all-important, reverential tones reserved for primetime panelists who say the word football thirty times a sentence? Hey, I don’t want to sound hypocritical. I’m all for romanticizing and rhapsodizing sports events, but let’s not forget: this is supposed fun, too. Rex Ryan must still be having some. Lighten up. Should the Jets lose this week, it won’t be because of a wig. Though there’s no doubt a few will make the connection…   

Coach Notes:

Speaking of the coach, he did have some information to share today:

On the latest injury news:   “Marquice Cole is out (with a) hamstring.  He’s out (and) will not play.  Josh Mauga is questionable with a hamstring.  He was limited today, but questionable.  Guys that are probable (are) Shonn Greene.  He was out today (and) did not practice (for) personal (reasons).  Guys that were full (were) Calvin Pace (foot), (Darrelle) Revis (hamstring), Matt Slauson (knee) and Damien Woody (knee).  All were full.  They’re all probable.  All those guys, Shonn Greene, Calvin, Revis, Slauson (and) Woody (are) probable.  In other words, they’ll definitely play.”

On Mangini returning fire: “I understand Eric Mangini took a shot (at me).  He took a shot at me and it wobbled me,” said Ryan with a smile. “There’s no question about it, he staggered me, but I’ve got one message to say to Eric Mangini, ‘You just made the list buddy’, Ryan continued with a laugh. “That’s it.  Name the movie.  Come on, we all know it.  “Stripes.”  ‘You just made the list buddy.’  He’s on there.”

On practice penalties:  “Bob Golic and Clay Matthews, those are the two guys (joking).  You know what’s funny, I’m not going to say they’re well-coordinated.  I think that would be overstepping the lines and all that.  I think (Matt) Roth, the kid they got from Miami, he’s a mean sucker.  He’s tough, he plays the run, he rushes the passer (and he is a) relentless guy.  If going back (in) the Jets days, a Gerry Philbin-type guy, just (a) relentless guy with a bad attitude.  You have to love him.  He plays tough.  The young safety (T.J. Ward) is playing well and he’s physical.  They just do a good job.  They have a bunch of guys contributing.  You know how we say it’s all about the decal, what are you going to say about Cleveland?  There’s no decal, so it has to be something about the uniform or something (joking).  They play hard.  They really do.  They get after it and they play as a unit, a prideful unit, just like we do.  They have a lot of good football players, but I think the Roth kid is the guy that really stands out to me.” 

On Kyle Wilson and Drew Coleman sharing reps this week:  “We’re going to play both those guys.  We’re going to alternate Drew (Coleman) and Kyle in there.  They’re both going to play nickel (and) dime.”

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