Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- New York Jets fans, under the direction of cheer conductor Fireman Ed, like to focus their game-day attention on four letters.
“J-E-T-S.” Over and over and over. “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” reverberates inside the stadium, especially when things are going well for Coach Rex Ryan’s guys in green.
Ryan would prefer that his players stay focused on four words, which we’ll get to in a moment, not on four letters. And, no, none of them are of the four-letter variety, even though Ryan has demonstrated an affinity for F bombs, a few of which might be tossed from the stands tonight when the Jets visit the rival New England Patriots with first place in the AFC East at stake.
Speaking of winning, Duke basketball’s Mike Krzyzewski, one of the most respected and successful coaches in team sports, likes to use the same four words as Ryan. He considers them the most important words in all of sports.
Worth noting is that these four words were the last thing Coach K, as Krzyzewski is known, uttered to Christian Laettner and Grant Hill before they perfectly executed one of the most improbable and thrilling plays in college basketball history.
“I believe in you,” Coach K told them. Hence, they believed that a ball could be thrown the length of the court, corralled and converted all in 2.1 seconds. Here were two of the most talented and accomplished players in college basketball that season and Krzyzewski still felt the need to issue that reminder. Hill once told me that, at that moment, it mattered to hear those words.
It’s the same message Ryan has delivered since he took over as Jets head coach last year. He believes. In himself. And his players, who, in turn, believe in their coach and themselves.
“Belief,” says Tony Dungy, who coached the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl win, “is so much a part of this game.”
Dungy, a devout Christian, earlier this season criticized Ryan, saying he wouldn’t hire a coach with a penchant for punctuating his remarks with foul language. Even so, even Dungy says Ryan’s yes-we-will credo has rubbed off on the players.
“The best thing he has done has made those guys confident,” Dungy said. “They’re a group that strongly believes they’re going to win the Super Bowl.”
If any professional football team needed a dose of confidence it was the Jets, who, more often than not, found a way to lose.
Well, it seems Murphy’s Law has been replaced by Rex’s Rule.
Ask 36-year-old Jason Taylor, who decided that he’d like to return for a 15th National Football League season. On one condition, that is -- that he play for Ryan.
I believe in you. Sounds simple. And yet, it’s so often overlooked.
Give credit to Ryan for knowing that even professional athletes need a reminder of just how good they are or how good they can be. Even the pros, the best at what they do, aren’t immune to self-doubt.
Professional athletes work their bodies. Ryan works their brains. It’s just as important as Xs and Os and blitz schemes.
One might think that Ryan, with nothing of consequence on his resume, might demonstrate a bit of reverence for the likes of New England’s Bill Belichick, the only coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.
Forget reverence. Ryan chose rogue, instead, saying repeatedly that his job is to kick Belichick’s you know what. Ryan is 2-1 against New England as coach of the Jets, who beat the Patriots, 28-14, in the second game of the season.
Talk to veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson, in his first season with the Jets after nine years carrying the ball for the San Diego Chargers.
Tomlinson says that Ryan tirelessly and endlessly preaches Super Bowl to his players. Not a day goes by that Ryan isn’t reminding his players that he believes they’re the best. Not a single day.
“So hard not to believe him,” Tomlinson said.
Players are so used to uptight coaches with all their rules. Like, say, Belichick, who wasn’t pleased earlier this season when his quarterback, Tom Brady, said he hated the Jets.
Brady earlier this week was asked by reporters if he still felt that way about the Jets. “I promised Coach Belichick I wouldn’t say anything derogatory,” Brady said. “So I have no comment.”
Ryan, by contrast, will comment on anything at anytime. He’s made grand predictions, donned a wig and elevated boasting to an art form. The coach in him demands fundamentals, yes. But he mandates, fun, too.
“It’s the NFL turned on its head,” said NBC analyst and former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth.
What better proof of an upside-down NFL than the Jets in the Super Bowl? Could it happen?
You better believe it. Thanks to their coach, the Jets do.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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