The characters are intriguing, the story-lines a complicated web weaved of both intention and pure randomness. The key faces forming one of the National Football League’s finest rivalries will be on display once more this Sunday. The Jets will attempt to complete a season sweep of New England for the first time in nearly a decade.
The coach, the quarterback… these two positions often decide everything.
Subject: Bill Belichick
Occupation: Patriots Head Coach
Traits: Sports the look of an uncompromising genius. Hooded sweatshirt centric wardrobe cuts a vagabond figure. Enlightened men like this have no time to dress stylishly, damn it. Famous for monotone interviews. Loathes on-field photographers for unknown reasons.
Rivalry Connection: Belichick is the epicenter. The seeds of this feud were planted by the defection of Bill Parcells from New England to New York after he guided the Patriots’ to their second Super Bowl appearance. For Parcells to coach the Jets in 1997, a complicated series of contractual obligations had to be dealt with, rendering the proceedings quite acrimonious. When it appeared Parcells would have to take a mandatory season long sabbatical; due to these extenuating factors, the Jets insisted that his defensive guru, Bill Belichick, would be installed as head honcho. The charade was eventually avoided, but it foreshadowed a nasty bit of cosmic irony, far as the Jets are concerned, anyway. Belichick was respected league-wide for an innovative defensive mind, but after failing miserably while in charge of the Browns, it was believed he lacked the proper communication skills to handle a top spot. But Belichick would restore his reputation, revitalizing the Jets with Parcells, accomplishing enough to be handed the latter’s job after his ’99 resignation. Parcells was not leaving the organization, however, and Belichick may have been weary coaching in someone else’s shadow. So, while the Jets were shocked and dismayed when Belichick bolted to New England, to run the Patriots on his own terms, the decision does not seem all that surprising in retrospect. If this somewhat bizarre sequence of events wasn’t enough to elevate tensions between the two franchises, the legendary success of Belichick following his New York exodus certainly stoked the flames to a fine boiling point.
Subject: Tom Brady
Occupation: New England Patriots Quarterback
Traits: Distinctive straight up stance in the pocket denotes the supreme confidence that usually arrives part and parcel with being one of the best players of your generation. Cloying smiles at press conferences reveal a hint of suppressed arrogance. Calmly plays catch while opposing teams drive downfield, usually with a convincing, stony disposition. Often spotted holding large trophies.
Rivalry Connection: For all those Jets fans out there hung up on relentless negativity, Tom Brady represents a focal point for disgust. It’s exceedingly easy to fall into the trap of questioning destiny, wondering why the Jets couldn’t hit the Tom Brady lottery. Hell, they would have even settled for another team outside the AFC East acquiring the Michigan product. Anyone but the Patriots, really… but so it was, and forever will be: New England grabbed Brady in the sixth round, figured he’d sure give Mike Bishop a run for his money, and the course of an entire sport changed. In comparison to this incredible fortune, the Jets haven’t been quite so lucky at the position. Vinny Testaverde was never the same after blowing out his Achilles, though he may have never been able to replicate the absolute magic of 1998. The next in line, Chad Pennington, seemed on a special trajectory. But a myriad of injuries and arm strength issues darkened his star. The new hope is Mark Sanchez, while Brady appears stronger than ever, even after a devastating knee injury.
Subject: Rex Ryan
Occupation: New York Jets Head Coach.
Traits: Ingratiating gregariousness has not faded with the fortunes of his team. This is a positive sign moving forward, that Ryan’s personality is not the least bit contrived, a claim he has consistently stood by. While it would be interesting to analyze Super Bowl XXV with Belichick as it plays on dusty projector like the Zapruder film or something, [“They thought I was mad when I said we’d win if Thurman Thomas rushed for 100 yards! HAHAHAHAHAA!”], most people would probably prefer pounding a beer or two with Rex. Does this mean anything substantial in the realm of tangibility? Not really.
Rivalry Connection: Ryan’s high degree of confidence was especially shocking after the mumbling regime of Eric Mangini. He made waves immediately with his proclamation that he hadn’t taken the Jets job to “kiss Belichick’s rings.” The Jets, as an organization, seemed prepared to assume the aggressive tact of their new coach, no longer content to play proverbial, passive Washington Generals. The strategy worked perfectly early, especially in week two, as a boisterous crowd and rampaging defense helped the Jets secure a home opening win against the Patriots. But even if the confidence hasn’t frayed, New York’s play definitely has, leaving them in a make or break situation that will provide the first definitive chapter of Rex Ryan’s legacy against New England.
Subject: Mark Sanchez
Occupation: New York Jets starting quarterback
Traits: Boundless youthful energy called charisma when the team wins and immaturity when the team loses. Carries a kinetic type of intensity that leads to fascinating exchanges whereupon he answers his own rhetorical questions at press conferences. Took this zeal a bit too far when dictating the terms of his postgame interview after a frustrating loss against Jacksonville, but the incident wasn’t a complete wreck, and he did take questions following the speech. [Though he was surprised any could be left. If I know anything about anything, it’s this: There will always be questions] Difficult to classify his quarterbacking style. Struggles with accuracy at times, though shows promising touch on intermediate throws. Soccer style end-zone celebrations are a plus.
Rivalry Connection: As eluded earlier in this piece, Sanchez represents what Jets fans pray will be a changing of the guard within the AFC East. He played a solid game against New England back in week two, but regressed as expectations exponentially rose. His immediate task is not to trade haymakers with Tom Brady. Being a reliable caretaker has proven difficult enough, at times. This is a certainty: If Sanchez goes to New England and emerges from the contest a winner, the perception of his entire season, on a mass media scale, will be altered.
Damien Woody is well aware the Patriots will be highly motivated following their heartbreaking setback against Indy: “That could well be the case. I think they understand the situation, as far as the division. Miami is one game behind them and we are two games back. The division race is sill tight.”
On that tact, Fullback Tony Richardson doesn’t necessarily buy into New England playing better because they are perturbed. “I don’t think that necessarily matters… [look at us] We’re coming off a tough loss to Jacksonville. This is an angry game we play. We’re mad, they’re mad… we’re all pissed off,” said the honest Richardson.
Jim Leonhard was still wearing a cast on his injured thumb when he met with the media today, but he expressed optimism about suiting up.
On practicing with the cast: “It was better than I thought it would be. It was nice to be able to get out there and see what I could and could not do and communicate that with Rex and the defensive coaches. If I wasn’t able to do that today, it would have been very hard for me to play on Sunday. It will be a game time decision.”
On if he feels he will play: “It’s hard to say. I realize how big this game is. We need this one, so I am going to do everything in my power. If I feel that I can help the team then hopefully the coaches feel I can help us win.”
On the surest sign he will be able to play: “It’s a combination of everything. Ultimately, you want to be able to play to where you are not thinking about it – to where you feel that you can just play football and not worry. Last week there were times where I didn’t really want to throw that arm in there. I feel like with this cast on, the trainers have said that it should be protected. If I can just go play football and not worry about, that is ultimately what you’re going for.”
It was an abbreviated press conference today for Rex Ryan.
He had a humorous response to a question pondering the game’s importance: “This one is not important at all,” said Ryan sarcastically, to chuckles from the gathered reporters. “I’ve totally flipped my [thought].” There are tons of games left. This one doesn’t mean a whole lot. That’s our story. I’m going to turn my hat backwards,” Ryan continued, doing just that. “Let’s go to work. We’ll try anything.”
Ryan and Richardson had similar feelings about New England being fired up: “I’ve got news for them. We’ve lost five of six. What kind of mood do you think we’ll be in?”
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