When the playoffs began just a few short weeks ago, many experts felt the road to the Super Bowl was filled with land mines for the New York Jets. After all, they were a #6 seed and beyond that, their road to the first Sunday in February went through Indy, New England, and likely Pittsburgh which meant Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger. It could be argued no team in recent memory had to go through that tough a journey--all on the road. The fact that the Jets had became a hated team that talked far too much made the detractors of the team relish the chance to see them go up in flames.
But that very thing brought this team together and Rex Ryan used it as a motivating factor to "build the impossible dream." Don't get me wrong--Ryan did not only use words--he devised unique game plans that quite frankly, parked his "blitz first" mentality at the door knowing his defense needed a different strategy against both the Colts and the hated Patriots. It's the mark of a great coach to be flexible enough to change philosophies in order to win. Pat Riley did it with the Knicks as his philosophy changed dramatically from his "Showtime" Laker teams when he came to The Big Apple. His Knicks were "lunch pail players" that were physical and mostly about defense and rebounding, aside from Patrick Ewing's offensive prowess. But he did it because it was the shortest road to winning and that is the biggest strength of Rex Ryan.
I know he's cocky and brash and will mix it up with anyone but make no mistake--he is a tireless worker and an innovative game planner. And the adjustments he makes at halftime round out his resume as a complete coach. But the real value in Rex is he has an impeccable sense of what his team needs. Last week, he needed to be brash because of the history with the Patriots but this week, he's been humble and my sense is that's because this game will be more about bulk than syle. So, expect the Jets to build a more aggressive defensive game plan with complex blitz packages designed to confuse a Steeler offensive line that is hurting.
The Jets are breathing hard on their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969 and moments before kickoff I am sure Jet fans will think about the tarp that was missing in Miami in 1982, the second half meltdown in Denver, or last year succumbing to the arm and brain of Peyton Manning. But I suspect those thoughts will be long gone later in the night as Rex Ryan may finally deliver to Jet fans what so many coaches failed to do--a trip to the greatest of all sport spectacles--a Super Bowl.
And that will make Rex Ryan's name reasonate in this town much in the same way the names Davey Johnson, Mike Keenan, and Bill Parcells did when they satisfied long-suffering fans of their teams. It would be rarified air for a coach who would deserve every inch of praise that he would receive.