New England, it seems, is never safe from rivalry. If it's not the Yankees and Red Sox tangling in the standings, it's something else. And right now, it's the Patriots and Jets who'll square off in the NFL's Week 2 in what is becoming one of the bigger rivalries in football.
True, Girl Scouts troops from Boston and New York would probably find themselves in a brawl over Thin Mints if given the chance. The animosity both cities feel toward each other is palpable, and there's something to be said about New York's feelings of superiority and Boston's inferiority complex in regards to its larger East Coast competitor. But nowhere is the rivalry more evident than in sports. While Yankees-Red Sox may be the marquee matchup, Patriots-Jets is gaining ground.
Like many rivalries, it starts at the top. Jets fans will forever hold a grudge against Bill Belichick for his surprise resignation as "HC of the NYJ" in 1999 following two seasons as Jets assistant coach and offensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. Belichick defected to the Patriots (the NFL ruled that he was still under contract with the Jets, and the Jets received a first-round draft pick in 2000 in exchange for the coach), and the rest, as they say, is history. New York's loss was New England's gain, and in the past decade, Belichick has put his mark on the franchise, winning three Super Bowl titles and setting the gold standard for NFL teams.
Of course, it's not been without controversy, much of it at the expense of the Jets. Gallons of ink have been spilled on the whole SpyGate fiasco, but suffice to say, it did nothing to warm relations between the Patriots and Jets. The distance between Belichick and Eric Mangini (the Jets' head coach at the time, and a former Belichick protege) only widened.
Then there's the matter of the players.
Cornerback Ty Law (currently a free agent) was drafted by the Patriots in the 1995 draft and played in New England until 2004. He left and went to the Jets.
Larry Izzo, a linebacker and former special teams captain for New England, is now wearing New York green and white.
Kevin O'Connell, third on the Patriots' depth chart behind quarterback Tom Brady last season, is now a member of the Jets, third on the depth chart behind Kellen Clemens and starting rookie stud Mark Sanchez. Belichick has already claimed that the Jets won't learn much about the Patriots from O'Connell, thus fanning the flames of the rivalry.
And the quarterbacks, to be sure, are not above the fray. With the signing of Sanchez out of USC, the Jets have lost one of their chief criticisms about Brady. For years, they dismissed him as an overrated pretty boy who couldn't throw the deep ball.
Despite the Patriots' 11-3 record against the Jets in games Brady has started, Jets fans continued to deride the New England quarterback for his central casting looks. Brady didn't help matters by posing for Stetson and Movado ads, as well as in the pages of Details, Men's Health and, most notably, with a goat in GQ.
But now that Sanchez has modeled swimsuits and posed with a barely clad supermodel in his own GQ spread, Jets fans can no longer criticize Brady for being a pretty boy. At the very least, he's a pretty boy who wins football games.
With a Week 2 matchup approaching, the rivalry stands to reach a fever pitch. Mangini has gone to Cleveland, but Rex Ryan, former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, has taken over the reins in the Meadowlands. Ryan has already begun stirring things up. In June he told a New York radio station ?I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick?s rings. I came to win, let?s put it that way. I?m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else." Which is surely music to Jets fans ears, but will do nothing to curry favor in New England.
And the Patriots themselves, fresh off a miraculous comeback victory over the Bills (which was due in equal parts to Buffalo boneheadedness as it was to Patriots' clutch play), are extra hungry for a definitive victory and statement maker, in order to cement themselves as tops in the AFC East.
The Jets, who dispatched the Houston Texans with little problem in Week 1, are equally hungry to show that they're not to be pushed around. Especially not by New England.
In many respects, the Patriots and Jets rivalry has been the opposite of the Yankees and Red Sox version. For years, while the Yankees hammered away at the Red Sox, Sox fans built up resentment and vitriol in the direction of New York and claimed disrespect whenever they could. Currently, Jets fans are tired of hearing about the Patriots' dynasty and their unstoppable quarterback and coach. They are itching to take a piece of that championship pie for themselves.
The Jets came close last year and managed to knock New England out of the playoffs in a roundabout way (losing to Miami in the final game of the season), but they still feel disrespected. All of which makes for an incredibly intense rivalry. Should be an interesting season. Round 1 begins Sunday at 1 p.m.