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The Joy of Rex

[1]Many thanks to the Jets for four very fun weeks, dating back to the postgame press conference after the Atlanta game when Rex Ryan sighed that the team had fallen from playoff contention. As we’d learn, his math was premature and his charges were off on a strange and wonderful journey that found them beating one division winner after another until time ran out on them [2]. We won’t soon forget the bizarre circumstances that may (or may not) have given them an opening against a Colts team that rested its starters and a Bengals team that packed it in early, but we’ll also recall with fondness their march through Cincinnati and, especially, San Diego.

Am I what you’d call a ¬†diehard Jets fan? I’m a Mets fan who roots for both New York football teams to do well. Because I’m a Mets fan, I take all my rooting pretty personally, so despite baseball being the only sport I care about every day of the year and every hour of the day, I can recite chapter and verse all manner of Jet heartbreak dating back to 1978, the autumn they first legitimately caught my fancy as my “other” gridiron favorite. I’m still upset they didn’t make the playoffs then. I’m still beside myself with frustration that the ’81 team came up a few yards short at Shea against Buffalo, that Don Shula didn’t cover the Orange Bowl field in a monsoon a year later, that Gastineau roughed Bernie Kosar with a ten-point lead and four minutes to go…and so on. I’m a Mets fan whose first football love was the Giants, but I absorb these Jets blows like a sponge, and my sports psyche has the bruises to prove it.

Am I severely bruised by this loss to the Colts? Not so much. Maybe it’s because the Mets are the Mets and everything else is everything else, but more because I’ve so enjoyed the brief ride Rex Ryan gave us. After years of deciding the only way to anticipate a big game was to tamp down my expectations, Rex raised mine for the Jets. That whole bit wherein he was issuing practice schedules clear to the Super Bowl, with reporting time for the ticker-tape parade inked in, first seemed absurd to me. But the Jets bought into it and delivered as much as they could. A semi-accidental 9-7 Wild Card team took a lead into the second half of the conference championship game against a much more qualified opponent. I was never quite sure I believed they could seal the deal, but I didn’t find myself swatting away my confident impulses. It was nice to root that way.

I’m still haunted by how the 2006 Mets didn’t win the World Series. There was a night that September [3] when I was sure they would, the night Reyes circled the bases on an inside-the-park homer — calling himself safe in the process — and we were beating the Dodgers with such ease that Chris Cotter congratulated T#m Gl@v!ne for earning the win after he left the game, before the game was over. What a slap in the face of protocol! The cameras went back to the field and there was Jose not handling a simple pop fly. He shrugged and smiled and the crowd gave him a playful round of applause. The Mets were going to win the game no matter what. The Mets were 35 games over .500, 16¬Ĺ games in first. This is it, I decided. We are immune to the superstitions I’ve been honing for decades. The 2006 Mets are that good.

The Mets went mortal after that game, slogging through September, encountering two serious injuries to their starting rotation and appearing more human than they had in months. Then the NLDS and a sloppy sweep of the Dodgers. Who cared if it was sloppy? It was a sweep. We were 3-0. We played the first game of the NLCS [4] and, though Albert Pujols wasn’t impressed [5] with Gl@v!ne’s stuff, we won 2-0. We were 4-0 in the postseason. Walking between the Shea LIRR station and the stadium itself the next night, I allowed myself to think we were going to be the first 11-0 team in postseason history. Those thoughts met a cold, bracing reality [6] hours later and the Mets never really recovered.

I’m not medieval enough to believe my thoughts control the action, but I’ve never forgiven myself for allowing myself to get so far ahead of where the Mets were. Shame on me, I’ve often thought. I wasn’t humble enough. I disturbed the gods with my presumptuousness. I should have waited for the Mets to win the World Series before reveling in the theoretical concept of the Mets winning the World Series.

The next time a team in whom I had some emotion invested was on the verge of doing great things, it was January 2008, the Giants in the NFC championship game. The Giants beat the Packers that night in a great, great game [7], one I refused to believe would go the Giants’ way until it actually did. I was quite stunned they were going to the Super Bowl against the undefeated Patriots. I proceeded to refuse to believe they could beat the Patriots either. But they did, in an equally great, great game [8], yet I allowed myself to enjoy very little of the buildup for either round. In a way it wasn’t bad because the feeling of them winning was so fresh afterwards that it gave me more satisfaction than I imagined an NFL result could at this stage of my life. But in another way, I’ve been mad at myself for two years for not enjoying the ride.

This time, while making no internal or external pronouncements about the Jets being a sure thing, I enjoyed the ride. I allowed myself to see the Jets winning. I could see them losing, too, but I didn’t look too hard at that possibility. The Jets had lost big games before. I had seen that. No need to jump the gun. I bought into Rex Ryan’s confidence, optimism and whatever else he was selling and his players were buying.

It was a great deal of fun this way. I’ll never be mistaken for a master of chalk talk, but I was into this game all week, into the Jets in a big way. They lifted my spirits in the midst of an otherwise grim winter. I don’t know how much I’ll care when their training camp rolls back around. I’ll probably barely notice since it will be the middle of baseball season, but I’m going to make a point of appreciating these Jets when they return and, in general, enjoying rather than dreading what’s coming next the way Rex would.

Thanks for that, Coach.

(Oh, and for the sake of my co-blogger, Geaux Saints, at least until Big Love comes on at nine.)