With football making a fast and furious foray into our collective consciousness after the abbreviated offseason and free-agent frenzy, the New York Giants and New York Jets are back on the field, and -- at least in Rex Ryan's mind -- are back to battling for the hearts and minds of the local fans. While Big Blue has been around for three-plus decades longer than their younger counterpart, and have three Super Bowl victories to one (not to mention another three NFL championships), both franchises are perpetuating their true identities under their present coaches.
It's no secret that Rex Ryan is bellicose, obnoxious, loud and a boor - but he somehow makes it all work, as his brashness is usually softened with a smile and his love of coaching and the game itself oozes out of every pore of his body. He's from the new school, where he goes out of his way to befriend his players rather than take on the persona of the standoffish boss, so of course his players love playing for him. And they've taken on his personality -- he's the leader of a group of badly behaved hooligans, as he's occasionally badly behaved himself (see "the finger," "the foot fetish," etc.). Ryan's a teller of tall tales ("I guarantee we'll win the Super Bowl"), but his bragging has become predictable and harmless. In his two seasons here, the Jet coach has been nothing but a carnival sideshow in and of himself, and he's become the biggest star on the team.
All of Ryan's characteristics, though, just make him fit in nicely with Jets history. He's just continuing what the Jets have been about since they came into existence in 1960. The franchise's original owner, Harry Wismer, was a man of great exaggeration, who would doctor attendance totals to make his team look good. One of the Jets' first fan favorites, middle linebacker Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel, blew into town in 1964 after being acquired from the Denver Broncos. During the same offseason, Giant great Sam Huff was traded to Washington, and McDaniel made waves when he claimed Huff's departure was a good thing since New York wasn't big enough for the both of them (sound like anyone we know today?). McDaniel went on to become a renowned wrestler when he completed his football career, which isn't too far away from the attitude that Rex Ryan possesses. Giants owner Wellington Mara viewed Joe Namath and the rest of the1960s AFL Jets as a bunch of degenerate hippies, as they had a reputation as a loud group of rebels giving the finger to the establishment. The long line of colorful, controversial malcontents on Jet rosters over the years has never waned, from Namath to Don Maynard to John Riggins to Mark Gastineau to Keyshawn Johnson to today's crew. And Ryan's team's on-the-field performance the past two seasons has been filled with close-but-no-cigar heartbreak that is the trademark of the "Same Old Jets," joining the likes of the Mud Bowl and Fake Spike.
Tom Coughlin, on the other hand, is old school. He's conservative, and a do-the-right-thing kind of guy. He wants to be in charge of his players, not Friend them on Facebook. He's a drill sergeant. He's no-nonsense. He doesn't trash-talk, he doesn't make predictions, he respects his opponents, he doesn't put up with shenanigans -- he's the boss, and he's all business.
Coughlin is the perfect fit with his organization. The Giants, from the outset in 1925, have been family-owned and are nothing but class. Like Coughlin, they're a do-the-right-thing franchise. When the Jets (or Titans to be specific) were born, the Giants were the establishment. They had the boy-next-door image. They were Madison Avenue. And they still are. From Y.A. Tittle to Phil Simms to Eli Manning, they were crew cuts and a walk-the-walk, don't-talk-the-talk team. They may have been wholesome, but it was a blue-collar, tougher-than-tough wholesome. It was all football with no time for antics or monkey business. Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro, Brad Van Pelt, Bob Tucker -- those are the Giants. Of course, there have been exceptions, such as Lawrence Taylor, who would have fit in nicely with the Jets, and Plaxico Burress, who -- surprise, surprise -- is now a Jet. And a handful of Jets like Wesley Walker or Wayne Chrebet or Marty Lyons would have been a good match for the Giants. On the field, Giant history is chock-full of playoff appearances and championships with a bit of unrest and unhappiness mixed in (see Allie Sherman's mid-to-late-'60s tenure, Joe Pisarcik, etc.), and that's exactly what Coughlin has produced: One Super Bowl, a few playoff appearances and an unbelievable, I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing meltdown against the Eagles.
Both Rex Ryan and Tom Coughlin are continuing the traditions of their respective franchises. It's been the Hairs vs. the Squares, the Rebels vs. the Good Guys, the Squawkers vs. the Speak-Softly-and-Carry-a-Big-Stick Gang. The Jets have always acted like Jets and the Giants the Giants. And with Ryan and Coughlin roaming the sidelines these days, that sentiment is more so now than ever before.