AFC East: Chuck Dickerson
|Jets coach Rex Ryan and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have different philosophies on what they say to the media.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Bill Belichick has deftly avoided discussing Rex Ryan's commentary about not being intimidated by the New England Patriots and their Super Bowl rings.
Belichick chuckles at the questions, deflects them, dismisses the issue as trivial.
In his Gillette Stadium sacristy, however, Belichick will be taking Ryan's words far more seriously and expecting his players to do the same in preparations for Sunday's game against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
Ryan, the Jets' rookie head coach, thumbed his nose at the Patriots' success during a June interview on New York radio station WFAN.
"I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings," Ryan said. "I came to win. Let's just put it that way. So we'll see what happens. I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.
"I think we already have sent a message to them. So they can read between the lines. ... They can figure it out. And when they come here that second week of the season, we'll see."
Ryan's bravado certainly will be used against him three months later. Bulletin board material? You better believe it.
"It'll be laminated, maybe even a banner over the stadium," said Je'Rod Cherry, a safety and special-teams ace on New England's three championship teams. "It'll be utilized.
"Bill is a smart, crafty guy. He will present it as blatant disrespect for the guys who were there throughout that run of Super Bowls, and he will use it to help the new guys identify with the Patriots' legacy. It will be a rallying call."
Cherry spent four seasons within Belichick's inner sanctum and is quite familiar with the coach's tactics for getting his players jacked.
Bulletin-board material is one of Belichick's favorite methods to stimulate players a little more in a sport that sometimes can be consumed by weekly routines.
"Whatever is between me and the team I think should stay between me and the team," Belichick said Wednesday when asked how he would implement Ryan's comments into this week's prep work.
Belichick is masterful at using the media to fire up his men. One of the more well-known examples came before the 2001 AFC championship game. Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and safety Lee Flowers openly dismissed the Patriots.
Flowers said the Patriots were "one play away from being home," referring to the infamously lucky tuck-rule call. Porter bemoaned the hassles of making arrangements for family and friends to attend the Super Bowl.
Before the game Belichick showed the video clips to his team.
"You talk about fired up," Cherry said. "Just off the charts. That played huge."
The Patriots beat the Steelers and eventually claimed their first Super Bowl title.
The concept of such a motivational tool is easy to harrumph. After all, players get paid exorbitant sums of money to perform. Pride and will should be enough to get the juices flowing, right?
"You're dealing with guys with super egos," said Cherry, who auctioned off his first Super Bowl ring last year to build orphanages and save children from sex trafficking. "This is a gladiator sport. It's about toughness and making the other guy submit. If you can play off something to get an edge and to get that desired effect, you do it."
That's why Belichick was quick to silence receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker for saying this year's offense could be better than the one that set records in 2007. That's why the Miami Dolphins hushed linebacker Channing Crowder, who engaged Ryan in an entertaining smackfest.
"As long as I can remember," said former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett, a Hall of Famer, "I've always been cautioned to be careful with what you say, from high school to college to the pro level."
Few coaches discuss the importance of using the media as a device. Players like to pretend they pay no attention to what's being said in the media.
They insist they don't read newspaper clips, don't go on the Internet, don't tune into talk radio or turn or turn on the television. Never mind that most NFL locker rooms have ESPN showing at all times on several screens.
"Guys read the papers," Cherry said. "They want to know what you think about us."
Bulletin boards aren't mythological. They not only exist, but they also are an important tool whether or not teams want to admit it.
"It's part of the game," said Mike Haynes, a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Patriots and Oakland Raiders. "When I was on the Patriots it was right by where you came in to pick up your mail [in Schaefer Stadium]. You could not miss seeing it.
"On the Raiders, it was on a bulletin board, and the trainers would talk about it all the time. 'Hey, did you read that quote in the paper?' You couldn't avoid it."
Haynes claimed he never paid much attention to what opponents were saying, but there were teammates who bewildered him. Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes was prolific in talking junk through the press.
"Who am I to tell somebody not to talk?" Haynes said. "I always felt like if you have to do that, if it's going to help you, going to help us, by all means."
Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy constantly harped on his players to refrain from making declarations that would might get an opponent riled up.
"We had guys that loved to talk," said Levy's quarterback and fellow Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly. "But he always would bring it up, whether it was a tough loss or a good game. He'd say 'Praise your opponent and don't you be the bulletin board for somebody else's team.' "
Perhaps talk is cheap, but it can prove costly.
In the days leading up to Super Bowl XXVI, gregarious Bills defensive line coach Chuck Dickerson ragged on the Redskins' offensive linemen. Dickerson, who later became a love-him-or-hate-him Buffalo radio personality, declared Mark Rypien hadn’t been tested all year like he would by the Bills.
"It definitely made the bulletin board for the Redskins, and they thrived off it," Kelly said. "They used it to their advantage."
Rick Telander, covering Super Bowl XXVI for Time magazine, wrote that if the Bills and Redskins played 10 times, the Redskins would win nine -- "10 if Dickerson were allowed to speak before every game."
A passage from Telander's story:
Then came Dickerson's ill-timed assessment of the Hogs: Tackle Joe Jacoby was a "Neanderthal" who "slobbers a lot;" tackle Jim Lachey was a "ballerina in a 310-pound body;" and center [Jeff] Bostic was "ugly like the rest of them." The night before the game [head coach Joe] Gibbs showed the Skins a videotape of Dickerson making the remarks, in case anybody needed further motivation.
Tippett would start searching newspaper clips on Monday morning in search of fuel. The Internet wasn't available when he played. There was no trash talking through Facebook or Twitter like you see today.
But Tippett often stumbled across an item he could use for added inspiration.
"You just look for guys like a quarterback or a receiver, who at some point are vulnerable in games," Tippett said. "Cat says something he shouldn't be saying or is dogging your teammate, you take the opportunity to maybe hit them a little bit harder or hold them up a little longer. You have fun with it.
"At some point after a victory, you make note of that to him. You just go up and whisper in their ear to make them think about it: 'I remember what you said. What do you think about it now?'"
Was Ryan foolish to be so colorful in explaining why he's confident about his team?
That depends on which team you're rooting for.
"If I'm a Jets player, I'm excited about what he said," Cherry said. "I'd be thinking 'Screw the Patriots.' "
Or at least thumbtack them.