Monday, March 21, 2011 Updated: March 23, 9:32 AM ET
Rex Ryan swings for the fences
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
So now Rex Ryan thinks he's Babe Ruth. You know what? Good for him. If he wants to be the Sultan of Swagger, let him roll with it. But know this: If the Jets fall short of his Super Bowl guarantee, he'll be compared to another iconic baseball figure.
Mighty Casey, striking out.
Ryan predicted Super Bowl glory on his first day on the job, with the famous Obama White House line, and he did it again before the 2009 playoffs. The most definitive guarantee came last month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where -- unsolicited -- he predicted the Jets' first championship since man first walked on the moon.
The brash coach has led the Jets to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game, a tremendous accomplishment for a franchise that had reached that point only three times in the previous 49 years, but the bold predictions will ring hollow if they fall short again.
Rex being Rex at a news conference during the run-up to the AFC championship game.
One more strike and there will be no joy in Mudville.
Ryan's detractors will mock his Babe Ruth comparison -- he likened himself to the Bambino in an interview with the New York Daily News -- but this was simply another case of Rex being Rex. All he did was reiterate his Super Bowl guarantee, patting himself on the back for having the courage to say what he feels in his heart. He said the Babe did the same thing with his legendary called shot in the 1932 World Series.
But here's the problem with the Ruthian ... er, Rex-ian proclamations: Ryan has put himself in a no-win situation. If he yaps too much, he gets ripped for being a gas bag. If he stays quiet, as he did during the run-up to the AFC title game against the Steelers, he gets criticized for being docile.
Is that the reason the Jets lost? Of course not, but Ryan has made himself the story and everything he says -- or doesn't say -- will be used against him in the court of public opinion. There's really only one way out: He has to win a Super Bowl.
In a way, Ryan is a victim of his own success. There was a time, not all that long ago, when Jets fans would've been satisfied with a playoff appearance, let alone a championship shot. Ryan changed the culture and has lifted the franchise to the brink, but that's not good enough anymore, especially when the man himself keeps shouting "Super Bowl" from the rooftops.
"They talk about walk softly and carry a big stick. I love that. I agree with that 100 percent," Ryan told the Daily News, mixing some Teddy Roosevelt into his Ruth rant. "But I guess I feel more like Babe Ruth. I'm going to walk softly. I'm going to carry that big stick and then I'm going to point, and then I'm going to hit it over the fence."
If not, his big stick will be reduced to big shtick.
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Ryan isn't making it easy on his players, the guys in the trenches who have to back up the tough talk, but you get the feeling they're used to it.
"I expect that of Rex. He's putting that out there right away and letting everybody know what we expect," LaDainian Tomlinson told ESPNNewYork.com in a recent interview, commenting on Ryan's Super Bowl guarantee. "He told us that right after the season, and I didn't expect it to be any other way."
Actually, Ryan makes a better Ruth than, say, William Bendix. He has the waistline, the larger-than-life personality and, in case you didn't know, a Ruth jersey in his extensive throwback collection.
They also share similar roots. Ruth grew up in Baltimore, around the corner from M&T Bank Stadium, where Ryan cut his coaching teeth as a Ravens assistant. While Ryan never pointed during a game, calling his own shot, he did flash a middle finger to an unruly Dolphins fan at a mixed martial arts event. Similar, right? Sort of. Maybe.
Ryan, no doubt, was having fun when he made the Ruth comment. He made it a point to say he doesn't consider himself the Ruth of NFL coaches, that he was just comparing their outspoken personalities.
The Sultan of Swagger has spoken. Now he waits -- we all wait -- for the 0-2 pitch.