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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Fandom at stake when Giants, Jets meet

By Jane McManus
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- There are legions of green-drenched Jets fans and blue-bundled Giants fans in New York and New Jersey. Most will be long entrenched in their allegiances when the Jets and Giants reach the 1 p.m. kickoff at MetLife Stadium on Christmas Eve, standing to support their teams. Even if they clash slightly when next to each other. Those fans have already picked their candidate. So the battle of Jets versus Giants -- as well as the contest of words leading up to it -- is for the hearts and minds of the undecided fan. "I love the NFL and I love the fact that the fans are passionate about their team," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "That's what you get. We win, they win, it doesn't matter -- there are still always going to be lifelong Giants fans, there are still going to be lifelong Jet fans. We're just trying to make up for that middle ground, some of these kids, try to make them Jet fans." He's talking about the 7-year-old in Mount Vernon whose parents moved up from Dallas who doesn't want to be an NFL outcast for her entire elementary school career. Perhaps the retiree in Staten Island who was too busy during his Wall Street years to realize there were professional football teams in the New York area. The European immigrant who can no longer follow his own version of football because he is too cheap to spring for DirecTV. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin grudgingly admitted that he is aware that Jets fans exist, and has even interacted with a few. "Occasionally," Coughlin said, "I even have some friends who claim to be." These are the potential "12th men" that Ryan and Coughlin can campaign to win over this week. And the coaches' platforms couldn't be more different. The Giants' coach is selling his brand of old-school dignity and accountability. If that was as boring to read as it was to write, consider additionally that Coughlin has actually won a Super Bowl. You'd think that this would give him license to talk about how frigging great his team is, but Coughlin has apparently decided to let his record speak for himself. Plus he would never use a word like frigging. Which sets him apart from Ryan. If you like whiskey references peppered through your news conferences, then Ryan is your coach. However, you will also have to endure a genre of humor related to his Lap-Band surgery, which is both amusing and disturbing at the same time. It would be great for the Jets' fan base if Ryan's Super Bowl predictions were based on some kind of psychic ability on his part, a kind of Miss Cleo in a gray tracksuit. But no, they're just tossed out to see what sticks. Ryan made his first verbal claim to the Lombardi Trophy before he'd even met his players. Granted, Ryan has reached two AFC title games, although the Jets technically played in only one and a half. Am I right, Pittsburgh?! Since Coughlin -- too busy writing team rules on the chalkboard -- refuses to point out any of this, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has happily hit the trail in support of his coach, most likely driving in his fast-ass car. Jacobs says New York won't go green just because the Jets win. "They're going to need a hell of a lot more than this game to make that happen," Jacobs said. He's also delicately pointed out that Ryan uses words to talk up players who may not be up to the challenge of winning games. Touché, Brandon. To the quick. Except that the Giants at 7-7 have an even worse record than the 8-6 Jets. And both teams had abysmal performances the week leading up to the Snoopy Bowl, forcing Snoopy himself to make numerous calls to his agent trying to have his name removed from the trophy. Yet both the Jets and Giants are actually positioned to make the playoffs. (Or not.) And only the winner can reach the playoffs! (Not really. Apparently coaches do not read the fine print on those playoff memos from the NFL, because that's not exactly true either.) But neither Ryan nor Coughlin is going to let the fine print on the projected NFL playoff seedings get in the way of a good pregame speech. In the same way that both local teams insist on representing the state of New York when both play and practice in New Jersey. What are facts when you are going for the hearts and minds of the voters? In closing, Ryan would like you to know that in supporting him, you are supporting one of America's loudest NFL teams. Plus he'll throw in a cool rally towel! While Coughlin, a man of few words, would leave it at that. Except that Antrel Rolle would have to jump in and say something inflammatory, so Coughlin should probably use his remaining time to say that by supporting him you join with a storied and successful NFL franchise. That he hopes to represent next year. New Yorkers (and those in the surrounding areas), the choice is yours. You can cast your vote Saturday.