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Friday, January 7, 2011
Updated: January 8, 4:07 AM ET
For Rex, Saturday is Judgment Day

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- No New York sports figure has ever handed out guarantees as easily as Rex Ryan, not even Patrick Ewing, who was often mocked for promising ticker-tape parades that happened only in his dreams.

But since we're in Indianapolis, and since Ryan is facing his ultimate hour of reckoning tonight against Peyton Manning's Colts, it's a good time to recall that Ewing did go 2-0 on his promises in this very town.

Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan will have a lot on the line when his Jets take the field in Indianapolis.

Before a Friday night Game 6 against the Pacers in 1994, with his Knicks down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, Ewing blurted to reporters, "See you Sunday." Sure enough, he forced a Sunday Game 7 he would win with a put-back dunk.

The following year, with his Knicks in the same position against the Pacers in the conference semis, Ewing was asked if he had any fresh sudden-death pledges. "Same thing," he said. "See you Sunday."

Ewing silenced the Pacers crowd with 25 points and 15 rebounds, forcing a Sunday Game 7 he would lose while finger-rolling his way into infamy (Remember, he wasn't Nostradamus).

All of which brings us back to another Big Fella, Rex Ryan, who desperately needs to be the Ewing who delivered in Indy, and not the Ewing who played the fool when forecasting glorious triumphs over Michael Jordan's Bulls.

Ryan had better not lose this game to the Colts. His New York Jets are the better team, even if Manning has a chance to go down as the greatest quarterback of them all.

But this wild-card playoff game isn't defined by the advantage in talent owned by the visiting team. This matchup has been colored and shaped by one and only one thing:

The visiting coach's great, big mouth.

Ryan can't help himself. It wasn't enough to keep talking up the Jets' Super Bowl destiny after the Patriots blew their divisional doors off, or to declare that he had a personal vendetta against Manning, who swatted away the suggestion as if it were a horsefly.

No, Ryan had to take on his second-round opponent, Tom Brady, while also jabbing Colts coach Jim Caldwell, the very man who silenced him in last year's AFC title game. The headlines referred to Ryan's tweak of Brady within this quote on Manning:

"Nobody studies like him. I know Brady thinks he does. I think there's probably a little more help with [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick with Brady than there is with Peyton Manning."

You don't need any forensic analysis of that quote to also feel the sneaky little poke into Caldwell's ribs.

Some executives and coaches around New York have been floored by Ryan's talking, trust me on that. They can't believe he'd put himself so far out on a limb that appears likely to snap.

The Jets have won 11 of 16 games, a hell of a good season for most. But this is also the season of "Hard Knocks" and Ines Sainz and Braylon Edwards' DUI arrest, the season of Sal Alosi's knee and Michelle Ryan's feet.

Darrelle Revis called the season "a tornado." That tornado will feel like a cool summer breeze compared to the apocalyptic storm that will hit Rex Ryan if he goes one-and-done.

Listen, Ryan had a clear strategy when he took this job. He decided to use his outsized personality as a weapon, to use it to inspire confidence in a team and franchise so often bullied by stronger foes. Nothing wrong with that.

Only now he's carried the act much too far. It's one thing to get non-believers to believe, quite another to bluster about inevitable victories and unnecessarily slight your opponents along the way.

Of course, if Ryan runs the table and beats Manning, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick/Drew Brees/Matt Ryan to win the Jets' first Super Bowl title in more than four decades, he'll be bigger on Broadway than Broadway Joe. That's the way sports works. Ryan will enjoy the loudest last laugh New York's heard since "Clueless Joe," Joe Torre, won it all in '96.

But in the event Ryan falls painfully short of his campaign promises in Indy, the coach will be a stationary target the size of Lucas Oil Stadium.

A loss to the Colts would guarantee nothing but pain, and plenty of it. So Ryan would be wise to outcoach Caldwell and outfox Manning and make it to the second round.

Late Saturday night, in the bowels of the Colts' building, Rex Ryan had better be in position to say, "See you Sunday ... in Foxborough."