Monday, January 13, 2014

Rex Ryan, Not on Fire: A Belated Tribute

I placed this fiery chair into what was supposed to be the season-ending post of this blog. But then the symbol became irrelevant.

Actually, is it a symbol? A symbol is supposed to represent any number of different things, whereas a sign typically represents only one thing. A cheap, wooden chair, likely dosed with lighter fluid, beginning its process of carbonization, could represent many things. In this case, it's supposed to represent the "hot seat." But then it's a misplaced metaphor, isn't it? The idea was that this post was supposed to come after the firing of Rex Ryan, but even if Ryan had been fired, a chair on fire would not have been the proper image to use. Maybe a chair reduced to ashes would have been better. Of course, it's irrevelant - the man still has his job, and the Jets finished what I predicted would be their best-case scenario record for 2013, breaking even.

Maybe the idea was that the fire would represent Hell. After the firing that never was, Ryan, in this post, was supposed to be sent (for his likely brief time of unemployment) to the Underworld, much like the one to which the ancients imagined their mythological heroes would be sent - a place filled with the spirits of others who had died and gone before them. Then the heroes would return again to the surface, carrying in their minds the newly learned wisdom that only the dead can know. In this case, Rex Ryan would visit - and be visited - by all the Jets ex-coaches whose ranks of relative infamy he would have joined.

Whom would he have met? Weeb Ewbank carrying around his heavy bronze bust, remembering Ryan as the chubby kid who once carried Namath's stuff around the locker room. Charley Winner trying to sell an overstock collection of embroidered Jets polo shirts from the 1970's. Lou Holtz offering barely coherent dadgummits about the superiority of the college player. Walt Michaels working the coat room, mumbling to himself. Joe Walton walking around the underworld lobby ranting to no one in particular about Joe Fields and Joe Klecko. A sneering Bruce Coslet complaining about player injuries. Pete Carroll actually wearing a monocle and silk top hat and offering unwelcome advice about defensive backs needing to be physical on every play. Here to take my bags, my good man?

(per Slimbo): Richie Kotite is found in the lobby, sitting in the easy chairs by the phony hearth, staring constantly in a hand-held mirror, hoping once again to win the New Year's annual Alan Rachins lookalike contest held in Emerald Room. It's a stretch, but the Coaches Underworld holds it every year to keep Richie from getting too despondent over winning only four regular season games in two seasons with us. The stragglers they pull off the street are the designated runners-up. It keeps the old coach's ego intact. Of course it's becoming a bit superfluous, for the memories of that time - of the self-loathing and humiliation Jets fans felt during his two seasons as coach - are becoming so distant that even Martin Roche initially forgot to note his presence in this place of misery. To be loathed is bad, but to be forgotten is worst of all.

Anyway, Bill Parcells is in the Underworld lounge singing "My Way," hurling an empty gas can at Rex. Al Groh is just barely visible in the background, still wearing his UVA hat, accepting tips from VIP's going in and out of limousines. And who is the shadowy figure going in and out of the car? It's not Herman Edwards - he's in the Avocado Room, practically handing out excess copies of his inspirational books. C'mon. People. Basement's not gonna clear itself out. Nor is it Eric Mangini - he's filling out an application for the coat check job, hoping that something opens up soon. Nevertheless he regards Rex Ryan with an air of superiority that Ryan cannot possibly take seriously.
But it was not to be, and though about a month and a half ago, I might have despaired of his getting rehired, the truth is that I'm happy, like a lot of you, that he was retained. On the one hand, no one better was available. Who would they have gotten? Mike Shanahan? Jim Schwartz? Ken Whisenhunt? What kind of world are we living in? Without a running game, without Revis, without a practiced, seasoned quarterback, without even so much as a reliable backup, the Jets had, according to the scribes, a simple set of very bad outcomes awaiting them at season's end. The club avoided most of them. Of all of predictions, the most common was that Rex Ryan would lose his job.

The simple, childlike joy that all the players showed the moment they learned that Ryan would be back for another year was enough of a happy ending for me, though it shouldn't have been. We should expect more than what this season gave us, but then that's the essence of being a Jets fan, isn't it? You can count on your hand the number of times that the Jets have convinced the world that they are a good team, a solid and formidable team. More often, Jets fans are left with their own relative measures of happiness. By breaking even, we did better than anyone expected. Only a Jets fan can truly enjoy the pleasures of knowing that. Once long ago, in an age before all their success, it used to be true of Patriot fans, too. It will be again someday, my friends. Mark my words.

No. Where would we be without our clown car's master of ceremonies - at least in terms of entertainment and color? Large numbers of Giants and Pats fans I know are happy that Ryan is back. Some are glad because they believe that Ryan is not all that great a coach. But they're secretly glad too that they will be able to enjoy his histrionics, his eccentricities and his bipolar moments of irregular logic for another year, just as we will.

What's New England got? Belichick. He is that shadowy figure going in and out of the limousines in the Underworld. He is the man whom Parcells spawned; he is the man who made Mangini. He was our coach for an hour or two. So long as that little cocktail napkin resignation sits snugly in the pocket of the overcoat he wears over his hoodie, he is always allowed free access to the restrooms and the dry cleaners in that Underworld hotel, that place of misbegotten dreams and years.

But underneath all that genius, that brooding, simmering intensity, what is Bill Belichick? Nothing more than a stumpy little hermit neighbor in a ratty sweatshirt who never so much as returns your wave as he steps out of his house to collect the newspaper from his steps. You wave at him every time even though you know he won't react to you, just to get on his nerves. You can't help it. And I have a feeling Rex Ryan would get a kick out of doing the same thing to him. Say what you will (and I will) our coach is flawed in an understandable and human way. Like you and me. I'd prefer him as my neighbor.

My favorite moment from that video - a clip that more than one wistful Jets fan said resembled a celebratory Super Bowl locker - came when John Idzik announced to the team that he believed that Ryan's club was not a cocky team with an attitude problem but rather a team that had earned its place. Behind the General Manager's back, hearing that the Jets were not a trash talking team, Rex Ryan can be seen to make a sheepish expression. If you say so, he seems to say. But actually, he smiles to his players, that's exactly what we are. 

You and I know it's true, and whatever expectations we have for next year, we know that Rex Ryan will be what he has always been, a source of unbridled entertainment and hysterical frustration for all of us, one sometimes more entertaining than the game itself. But the seat remains very warm, all the same. The metaphor finally fits.


Slimbo said...

Great post, but I think you missed Richie Kotite endlessly trying to reassemble a broken Boomer Esiasan bobbblehead....

Martin Roche said...

I thank you, and am ashamed that I couldn't come up with a better image than the bobblehead.