Monday, January 24, 2011

Playoff weekend, including focus on Rex Ryan and the Jets, analysis on Cutler too quick; Update on new book

The New York Times had a perfect headline at the top of its sports front this morning: ‘Bluster Busters.’ That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers were on Sunday.

That said, reading and hearing all the comments about how Rex Ryan needs to shut up, made me laugh. First of all, Rex isn’t shutting up anytime soon. It just isn’t who he is and I’ve never met anyone in any walk of life who is successful trying to be someone who they aren’t. Hell, I’ve tried to do it on a few occasions and failed miserably.

I like Rex and it isn’t because the Jets were my boyhood team. I got to know him well in 2004 when I wrote, ‘Next Man Up,’ and liked him from day one. I still remember sitting in the Ravens war room—much to the horror of GM Ozzie Newsome who to this day shudders when he thinks of my presence in his draft room—when the Ravens turn finally came up on the draft board. (They had traded their No. 1 pick a year earlier to get Kyle Boller, a rare Newsome move that didn’t pan out). As soon as the team ahead of the Ravens made their pick, I heard a loud ‘WHOOEE!’ come from the room across the hall where all the assistant coaches were located.

It was Rex. The Ravens had a list of 150 players ranked from 1-150 and the highest player left on the board at that moment was Dwan Edwards, a defensive lineman. Always ‘true to the board,’ he would be Newsome’s pick. That meant two things to Rex: he had gotten a player he thought could help his line and he had beaten out the other position coaches to get his player chosen first. Yes, coaches on the same staff DO compete with one another at times.

Edwards never turned out to be much of a player—Bob Sanders, who the Ravens would have taken if they’d been able to move up six picks, which they came within seconds of doing, DID turn out to be pretty good—but that was my first exposure to Rex’s genuine enthusiasm. Without doubt he was the best-liked coach on the staff and there was no doubt he would become the defensive coordinator when Mike Nolan left at the end of the season to become the head coach in San Francisco.

So, Rex is going to be Rex. Of course there an old saying in sports, ‘it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.’ The Jets haven’t done it—win the Super Bowl—in Rex’s two years and I have no doubt he’s going to be hammered in some quarters for not delivering on his promise. There’s also no doubt that something went wrong between warmups and kickoff on Sunday because the Steelers kicked the Jets butt in every possible category for the first 29 minutes of the game.

Let me step back for a second though and put on my Jets-fan cap: Does anyone want to bring back Eric Mangini? Even when the team was good during the Mangini –‘era,’ there wasn’t a whole lot of fun going on was there? Mangini makes Bill Belichick look like Rex. Two years; no playoff victories (one appearance) and zero laughs. Rex? Two years; FOUR playoff victories and about a million laughs.

Even if I’d never met him, I’d take Rex in a heartbeat. Herm Edwards was (is) a terrific guy but he got to how many conference championship games? If you want, I can go back through the whole sad history. The only Jets coach you can POSSIBLY make a case for being better than Rex since Weeb Ewbank retired is Bill Parcells and he fled after a couple of years to write the eighth installment of his ongoing series, ‘My Final Season.’ I think the 12th installment comes out in another year or so.

As for the NFC game, was it just me or did it feel a little bit like the JV game? Don’t get me wrong, I think the Packers have a great chance to win The Super Bowl. Any team in any sport that plays lousy and still advances is very dangerous. Aaron Rodgers was awful on Sunday. The only reason the Packers won was because Jay Cutler was worse before he got hurt and the Bears were never all that good to begin with. Lovey Smith did an amazing job to coax 12 wins from that team.

One note on Cutler: I’m not a fan of his. I think he’s arrogant and obnoxious and he’s an interception waiting to happen at any key moment. That said, to question his knee injury is unfair. Unless there’s real evidence that he was faking it, people should shut up. None of us knows how someone ELSE feels when they get hit or are in some kind of pain—especially playing in zero degrees with Clay Matthews bearing down on you. Those who question someone for saying they’re hurt should try doing that one time in their lives.

I do have one question on the Packers: Am I the only one who continues to be amazed at how players risk disaster by show-boating? B.J. Raji made a great play when he intercepted Caleb Hanie and went in for a touchdown but what was he thinking holding the ball out before he got to the goal line? If Hanie had arrived a step earlier he might have knocked the ball loose from him on the one-yard line. Ridiculous? Really? As in it has never happened in the past?

And when will defensive backs learn that when you make an interception with the lead and the other team is out of time outs in the last two minutes you GO DOWN. And yet, there was Sam Shields running around after the last interception with everyone screaming at him to get down—which he finally did. Again, the only way you can lose the game at that point is if you fumble while being tackled. Again, tell me it has never happened in the past and I’ll withdraw the comment.

I have no idea who will win The Super Bowl. But if the Steelers win there had better be a lot more people putting Mike Tomlin in the same sentence with Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells than with Tom Coughlin and Bill Cowher. The guy is really good at what he does and often doesn’t get credit because he’s, well, no Rex Ryan.

You have to be yourself, right?

*****

One note on the book I’m currently working on about my 25 years of writing books. A number of people have asked if who I’m writing about is a secret. Not at all. You can probably guess if you’ve read my work at all in the past. The book begins with Bob Knight because that’s where my book-writing career began. It also ends with Bob Knight. In between I write about some of the famous people I’ve known: Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, Mike Krzyzewski, David Robinson, Steve Kerr, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, Tiger Woods (there’s a Tiger story that MAY surprise you) Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and others. There are also lots of stories about not-so-famous people I’ve known but who I’ve liked and found fascinating. Have I spoken to everyone mentioned: almost. Have I spoken to Knight? Yes. As I said, the book ends with him—just don’t read it expecting hugs, kisses or tears when you get to the finish line. They come earlier.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Am I the only one who continues to be amazed at how players risk disaster by show-boating?"

No, you're not the only one. Seems to validate stereotype of "not very bright", which I don't completely buy into but I wish they would stop provided evidence.

BtwJ, I would expect some blog on the Army-Navy B-ball game, the almost 5 hour ladies match downunder, and the PBA guy who rolled a 100 on national TV, being the all around sports guy you are!

Taha said...

will your new book include the John Wooden story? I've heard it's good.

GerryO said...

John,
Many of your readers would love you to write the biography of Dean Smith even though his illness precludes much assistance in the writing of it.
Gerry

JJ said...

John,

You seem to give guys a pass that you like. Rex is being himself, but himself is a jerk. In any other walk of life, he would be considered so. Success doesn't give anyone a pass.

Given Cutler's history of quiting on his team ( see the Giants game), he has to prove he is injured before people in Chicago will buy it. Question for you...would Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Brett Favre have some off the field yesterday unless they were carted off?

Matt H said...

JJ

Are you insane? Quit on his team after the giants game? He suffered a concussion and didn't' play the next week. Or do brain injuries not count as getting injured in your book? See how John Mackey is doing now if you don't think so. Stupid troll.

Momus said...

I'll look forward to reading your book reflecting back on the last 25 years of sports coverage. On the other hand, two headlines that I happened across this morning (from the excellent National Sports Journalism Center website) neatly sum up the growing reality of "college" sports in the next 25 years ...

"Most of TNT NBA Crew to Handle NCAA Basketball Tournament Coverage"

"ESPN, University of Texas reach 20-year, $300 million deal"

JJ said...

Matt,

Thanks for the troll comment. If it had Manning or Brady on Sunday, would media/players be questioning their injury? If this was a one time deal with Cutler, would there be such a media firestorm?

Anonymous said...

John,

I hope Czaban asks you about golf on his show with Andy Polley tonight. Two things: PGA purposely grouping players for TV ratings, and Finchem asking the USGA to take another look at DQ penalties which are only brought to light by the combination of anal retentive gold nerds and HDTVs.

pulmcrit1 said...

Totally agree with your opinion on Mike Tomlin deserving more credit, especially if the Steelers win the Super Bowl. He does a great job, has the respect of his players, and has a commanding presence without being a blowhard. I root for the Steelers because of Tomlin.