Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rex Ryan, The Media, and Why We Should Respect Our Elders

At a young age we’re taught to respect our elders, but in our culture we’ve been taught to do just the opposite. Our favorite musicians need to adjust to the latest trends and sell ipods in order to sell a fifth of the albums they sold in their prime. Our favorite actresses fall off the face of the earth, or even worse – into straight to video films, once they hit maternity. Yet no cultural figures become more irrelevant than our favorite quarterbacks of yesteryear.

This offseason Warren Moon refused to hop on the media’s anti-Cam Newton bandwagon and was criticized for it, some even accusing Moon of favoring Newton because of his African American heritage. It turns out that Moon, a Hall of Fame quarterback, was able to see in Newton a skill set that would translate well to the NFL. Moon was right, the majority of the media was wrong.

In 2009, a long retired Fran Tarkenton spoke out against Brett Favre and his penchant for contemplating retirement. Tarkenton warned that Favre would be holding the franchise back from building around a young team, and he would be too much of an attention seeker. Top media figures destroyed Tarkenton and Minnesota fans turned on the only quarterback to take their franchise to the Super Bowl. Tarkenton was likened to the cantankerous old man who does nothing but complain about how in his day everything was better. Two years later, Tarkenton was obviously right. Despite one magical season in 2009 that ended with a costly Favre interception, it is obvious now that the Vikings mortgaged their future for a run with Favre, and now they’re 0-4, coming off of a horrible year that saw the franchise set itself back to where it was in 2006. Tarkenton was right, the majority of the media was wrong.

This past Monday, Joe Namath went on “The Michael Kay Show” on 1050-ESPN radio (where he normally does a Thursday spot) and said that Rex Ryan has his team believing that they’re better than they are, and for that they don’t work hard enough at getting better. Namath called the Jets 34-24 loss to the Raiders “humiliating,” and then zeroed in on Ryan’s constant declarations of magnitude. Namath said that Ryan’s consistent brash talk in regards to his team has his players thinking that they’re champions, when in reality they’re just a team that go to back to back AFC title games.

And Namath is right. Think about it. What if after the devastating loss the 2002 Eagles suffered to the Buccaneers, Andy Reid came out and bragged about winning more playoff games over the past three years than any other team? We would have laughed in his face and Reid may have lost his job after the 2003 loss the Panthers. Yet the national media, a vast majority of the New York media, and the Jets fan-base feed off of Ryan.

Remember Harold Camping? The guy who predicted the world was going to end on May 21st of 2011, and then May 21st came and went so he said it was going to happen in October, 2011? So far that’s what Rex Ryan has done. He’s created a cult of New Yorkers and media people who believe that his predictions are correct, and they’re willing to adjust their mindsets accordingly. Jets fans are no longer the Mets fans of football; a team that expects to lose, they’re now like Yankee fans; a team that expects to win every game, every night. Jets fans have bought into Ryan’s dialogue, bought Mark Sanchez jerseys, and made countless social media impressions about Revis Island, the way Camping’s followers sold their possessions, put up billboard ads, and prayed fervently in anticipation of the apocalypse. An a apocalypse that never came.

What’s even worse is that, according to Namath, the Jets players have joined the cult, and that’s dangerous. People criticize Tom Brady for his arrogance, Aaron Rodgers for flashing a championship belt after a touchdown, or Peyton Manning for his evident emotion, but those three players prepare for every game as if their legacy is on the line. Those players have developed a method to not only win in the regular season, but to win in the post season, and the Super Bowl as well. Ryan’s team demonstrates all of those attributes, but unlike those players, is void of any championship. This is what Namath warned against. Namath feared that unlike his 1968 Jets, who rode Namath’s guarantee of a championship to an unpredictable Super Bowl III victory, the 2011 Jets have lost their underdog hunger and now believe that they can just go out there and beat anybody.

Immediately after Namath’s comments a media firestorm took off. Namath was called all of the things that Fran Tarkenton was called. Some had the audacity to call him jealous of Sanchez’s success, and that Sanchez is the new playboy of New York. 660-WFAN’s Craig Carton destroyed Namath, while other personalities pointed to Namath’s stats having more interceptions than touchdown’s for his career. A few level headed media members such as 660-WFAN’s Mike Francesa pointed out that Namath played in a different era so his statistics can’t be looked at, but Francesa is also billed as anti-Jet, so his defense of Namath fell mostly to deaf ears.

Then Rex Ryan opened his mouth, insinuating that Namath is out of touch at what goes on behind the scenes in the NFL, and that he has no knowledge of how the Jets prepare. Ryan did his best to dance around the subject without putting down Namath, who is to this day the only New York Jet of national significance, but at the end of the day Rex was Rex, and Namath did not do his weekly Thursday spot on 1050-ESPN.

And now the Jets are 2-2 heading into New England. The offense came out unprepared and got embarrassed by a Baltimore team that the Jets needed to beat to get over that regular season hump they’ve been stuck on. On top of that, the Jets looked as bad as they’ve ever looked under Rex Ryan, and Mark Sanchez had a performance that would have made Curtis Painter laugh. The Jets offensive and defensive lines looked horrible, and the bottom line is the Jets looked like a team that is about to spiral into a .500 season.

When a Hall of Fame quarterback has something to say about the game that they excelled at, we should listen, just as we would listen if John F. Kennedy were still alive and wanted to talk about the state of our government. Namath may have played in a different era but he still knows the sport, and unlike Ryan he knows the mentality of a player, and more importantly the mentality of a champion. And for that, Joe Namath was right, the majority of the media was wrong.

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