Rex Ryan feels pressure of 9/11 game

Updated: September 6, 2011, 12:48 PM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK -- Rex Ryan may not have been a New Yorker on Sept. 11, 2001, but he is sure that the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks is why the New York Jets home opener against Dallas Cowboys makes it feel more significant.

"Usually, like I go against my brother and all that and you have a lot of fun with that, but I feel, I don't know it's different, like a responsibility," Ryan said. "And every week I have a responsibility to make sure our team is prepared but, I don't know, it just feels different to me.

"The significance of it, it's stronger than any game I've ever felt. I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I've ever coached it seems like."

The Jets coach will be on the sideline opposite his twin brother Rob Ryan, the Dallas defensive coordinator. In a normal year, in the week leading up to a normal game, the sibling rivalry might dominate the headlines. But the NFL decided to have a game in New York on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and it will be a more solemn remembrance.

Ryan, who has been involved in several pressure-packed games, including a Super Bowl and the last two AFC championships, was careful about choosing his words on the matter, in part because he knows what that day will mean in this area. Ryan said he had a relative, Matthew Russo, who was a New York City firefighter on that day, and immediately thought of him when the towers were hit. Russo, who has since retired, was not called to the World Trade Center that day but knew plenty of firefighters who were.

"This whole region, this whole area, I know it's football, we're not talking about life or death or anything else, but that's how I'm taking it," Ryan said. "I can't explain why I feel this way but I just do."

Ryan, in his third season as coach of the Jets, was an assistant in Baltimore 10 years ago. He says he was walking by the office of Pat Moriarty, a Ravens executive, and they both watched on TV as the second plane struck the World Trade Center.

"It was like, 'Oh my goodness,'" Ryan said.

The Jets got an up-close look at the construction site at the World Trade Center last Wednesday, when they took a team trip there after their annual charity luncheon in Manhattan.

"When you go there, there's a certain aura that you have when you stand there and you just imagine that day and just the chaos and everything that so many families and people went through," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "It just gave you that feeling that you're special. You're lucky to be standing on that spot, but at the same time you're special because you get a chance to do something that a lot of people don't get to do. But it's very humbling at the same time."

It will be an emotional start to what Ryan has repeatedly promised will be a special season, one he insists will end with a trip -- and a win -- to Indianapolis and the Jets holding the Lombardi Trophy. And it all begins with a matchup against his brother and a team that always has Super Bowl aspirations.

"You can't ask for a better stage," wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. "Especially with everything going on with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and playing 'America's Team,' the Cowboys. It's the first Sunday night game of the year. We're playing them here. Great organization, great stadium. You just can't set a better stage for the things that we want to accomplish as a team. We're just embracing it. I think we're going to go out and handle our business."

Already a night loaded with story lines, the game will also mark the official return of Burress, who hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2008. Burress spent 20 months in prison on a gun charge after accidentally shooting himself in the leg in a Manhattan nightclub, wondering what was in store for his football career.

He's now expected to be a top receiver for Mark Sanchez, teaming with Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason on an offense that is expected to air things out a little more this season. And, Burress can't wait to run out of the tunnel Sunday.

"I kind of go over in my mind what it's going to feel like, but I don't even know," he said. "When I get out there, whatever happens, if I shed a few tears or whatever, the world will see it."

Jane McManus covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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