There was no reason whatsoever for me to have a fierce rooting interest in Sunday's Jets-Colts AFC championship game in Indianapolis. Call me an underdog hater, but something just felt wrong about siding with the Jets.
As a Patriots fan, which team should I be rooting for in Sunday's game? Well, I understood both schools of thought, and neither was too appealing given that the Pats would be nowhere near the white lines of the playing field. I totally get those fans who could never root for the Jets, arguably the Pats' biggest AFC East rivals, and the team that frustrated Tom Brady and his high-flying offense back in a 16-9 loss in Week 2.
I can also sympathize with the New England supporters, like the talented Tom Caron, who said a Jets win would be good for the Pats in the long run. Maybe extra success from a chief rival would spur the franchise into spending more money in the offseason and bringing in some serious new talent, a la the Yankees with the Red Sox. "I want Bill Belichick to steam about the Jets this entire offseason," TC wrote. "Then, I want him to do something about it." It's a great plan, but Belichick will steam about the Jets regardless of how they fared on Sunday.
So rooting against the Jets was, for me, neither about getting revenge for them making it further in the playoffs than the Pats nor about inciting the Patriots to action during the spring and summer.
It was about rooting against the faux-underdog. Allow me to explain.
The Jets looked like world-beaters at times this year, for example, getting out to a surprising 3-0 record before losing six of their next seven. After that, though, the Jets again went on a rampage, winning five of their final six to sneak into the postseason. There, they outplayed good Bengals and Chargers teams to set up Sunday's matchup with the Colts, who, with league MVP Peyton Manning, had earlier in the season set a new NFL record with their 23rd consecutive regular season win.
Still, the Jets were the upstarts, the team that came out of nowhere, the Cinderella story, the David to the Colts' Goliath. And that's an enticing angle for football fans and media alike. As Jim Donaldson of the Providence Journal wrote Saturday night, "Sports writers always root for the story. … [And] most football writers around the country are hoping for [outspoken Jets coach] Rex Ryan and the Jets to go to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV."
But the Cinderella story is supposed to be cheery, soft-spoken and modest. The Jets were brash, loud-mouthed and arrogant.
What fun would it have been to root for, say, the USA men's hockey team back in 1980 in Lake Placid if Mike Eruzione had spent the days leading up to the Americans' matchup against the Russians guaranteeing a win or taking pot-shots at Red Army goaltender Vladislav Tretiak?
It may be fresh and appealing to watch for some, but it wouldn't be your typical underdog story. It's a little harder to root for the little guy when he starts to act like the overconfident consensus favorite. Therein lies the rub with Ryan.
He's the guy who ushered in his tenure with the Jets by suggesting he'd soon be meeting then-newly sworn-in President Obama, presumably due to an impending Jets' Super Bowl title. He's the guy who said he wasn't taking the job in New York to kiss Bill Belichick's rings. He's the guy who cried after a loss. He's the heavy-set guy who proudly chows down a reported 7,000 calories a day.
He's the guy who, despite sneaking into the playoffs as a wild-card team, suggested that the Jets should be the favorites to win it all. In fact, heading into Sunday's game against the Colts, he's the guy who told the New York Daily News, "We're going into the game expecting to win. I'd be shocked if we don't. Absolutely be shocked."
He's emotional. He's not afraid to say what he's thinking. His players love him. And the media and fans love him even more.
And it's clear that he's a good X's and O's guy, too. He won 11 games this season (in the regular season and playoffs combined) with a green rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez. He's done a fantastic job of motivating his team and getting his squad to buy into his blue-collar, smash-mouth system of running the ball and playing tough defense.
And he's clearly done a miraculous job of changing the culture within the Jets franchise, which, like the Mets in baseball, is clearly considered New York's second team.
On Sunday, Ryan's team made him look good for about two quarters. Then the Jets' leading rusher in the playoffs, Shonn Greene, left the game with injured ribs and Manning took over for Indy. When Sanchez's pass was tipped and picked off by the Colts with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter, the Cinderella story was finally over.
To his credit, Ryan was somber and respectful following the loss, warmly congratulating Colts first-year coach Jim Caldwell at midfield following the game.
"That was rough right there," Ryan said at the beginning of his postgame news conference before paying homage to Caldwell, Manning and the AFC champs.
But Ryan couldn't get away from the podium before offering up another small slice of optimism and brashness: "We're close," he said. "We thought we could win it all. We really did."
The Jets magical playoff run came to an end on Sunday, but there's no telling how much it will help their confidence looking ahead to next season.
Maybe then the rest of football will be able to look past the underdog label and see the Jets for what they really are: a serious force in the AFC East.
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