A Reality Check

I was born on September 19, 1986 — 29 days before the start of the Mets-Red Sox World Series. At this point in my life, a series of that magnitude would be the equivalent of the apocalypse. Mets. Red Sox. One team has to win. One team has to become world champion. It’s as terrifying as a sporting event can be in which one of my teams isn’t playing. Thankfully I wasn’t even a month old the last time that nightmarish matchup took place.

Nothing in sports can touch what the aftermath of a Mets-Red Sox World Series would mean to me as a Yankees fan and someone who lived in Boston for five years and had to live through two Red Sox championships. The only thing that I could see being relatively similar would be a Jets-Patriots AFC Championship, and that’s why on Monday I made the trip to Foxboro to get a first-hand look at the second-worst possible sports formula to my life. Sounds crazy considering I’m a Giants fan, and neither team has a direct impact on the Giants’ path to the Super Bowl, but with all of the hype surrounding the Jets-Patriots Monday Night Football game, I figured if this is the potential AFC Championship, I might as well get a sneak peek as to what life will be like when two teams that I despise meet to decide a trip to Dallas.

For all the hype, it was as bad a football game as it could be. Actually it was a bad football game even without the hype. It was as bad as the time I went to see Tom Petty a few summers ago and he played all new songs, or the time I had seats behind home plate for Yankees-Red Sox and Roger Clemens put together the type of performance (5.1 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 2 HR) that A.J. Burnett puts together every fifth day. I respect the Jets fans that I saw playing bags and crushing Coors Lights when I walked into the stadium at 5 p.m. knowing that they would be pregaming for another three-plus hours in freezing temperatures and would then have to sit through another three-plus hours of freezing temperatures being humiliated in a rival stadium. I respect them, but I don’t feel bad for them because at some point “the same old Jets” were going to become exactly that. It might not have happened against the Broncos, Lions, Browns or Texans, but it was going to happen again, and the Patriots were the perfect team to remind the Jets that they have a long way to go.

I went into the game with an open mind knowing that one of the fan bases I hate would come out victorious. I didn’t care who won because the result would be both good and bad either way it ended, I just wanted to see a good game. I was hoping for maybe a low-scoring defensive affair, or a game that would come down to a two-minute drill in the fourth quarter. Instead I got a 45-3 blowout in which Mark Sanchez looked every bit as bad as he was in his four-interception game in Foxboro last season. By the end of the third quarter, I was wishing it were an NHL game so that there would be a line brawl or scrap of some kind. Instead the Patriots tacked on another 14 points in the fourth quarter and the closest thing to a line brawl was the wild pack of reporters fighting over the free pizza after the game.

I believe that you find out what players and coaches are really like in big games. It’s like talking to someone when they are drunk and they open up to you and tell you their real opinions and feelings that they would never tell you sober. But with some alcohol, you are suddenly their best friend and someone they trust to talk to. Well big games are alcohol for players and coaches, and no game has been bigger this season than the Jets-Patriots Monday Night Football game. No one is as important as the head coach and quarterback in football, so let’s find out who the two head coaches and quarterbacks really are after the biggest game of the 2010 season to this point.

Rex Ryan
I didn’t like Rex Ryan at first, then he grew on me and I even wished Tom Coughlin was a little like him when I said, “I only wish Tom Coughlin could be half as likeable as Rex Ryan.” Actually I wish Tom Coughlin could be half as likable as anyone, but I was wrong to think that Coughlin should change his ways to be more like Ryan. After my 180 on Rex, I have done other 180, and now a complete 360 and I am back to my initial stance of not being a fan of Rex Ryan anymore.

There are few, if any, press conferences in sports as entertaining as Rex Ryan’s, but even those are getting old. In two seasons, Rex Ryan has become what The Office has become for me over seven seasons — a show that I was skeptical about at first, and then grew to love before becoming skeptical again.

One day Rex is saying that the Jets are the team to beat and the next he is saying that he knew the AFC East would run through New England. I understand that you have to take a grain of salt with whatever Rex says, but it’s become ridiculous. He wants to come off as this cocky, arrogant and pompous winner when the Jets are winning close games against barely competent teams. And after losses, he becomes an apologetic, sincere and humble the next. It’s an odd act that has made him a favorite of Jets fan, but an immature and unprepared clown to outsiders.

Tom Coughlin might not have a comedic personality or a limit to the amount of snacks he can eat in a day or a twin brother that looks like Sean Connery’s character John Mason at the beginning of The Rock, but he has beaten Bill Belichick in a big game (the biggest of games), and at least with Tom Coughlin you know what you’re getting, whether you like it or not. Oddly enough, I’m thankful that Tom Coughlin is the way he is.

Mark Sanchez
Last week, Mike Francesa said that if you polled the city, the majority of people would take Mark Sanchez to be their quarterback over Eli Manning. It’s true and it blows my mind.

I understand that Jets fans are protective of their quarterback the same way that I was of Eli in his first few seasons in the league before he beat what would have been the greatest team ever and then didn’t need me to protect or defend him anymore. But there comes a time when you have to look in the mirror and admit that while Mark Sanchez might be an elite quarterback one day, he is nowhere close to being one right now.

This season Sanchez has been a lot better than his disastrous 20-interception season in 2009, but with the team’s success, his second-year abilities have been disguised for most of the season before being unveiled on national TV on Monday night.

I had one friend tell me that Mark Sanchez is underrated — a claim that couldn’t be further from the truth. If Sanchez isn’t the most overrated player in the league, he is certainly near the top of the list. I think he will be an elite quarterback in the league at some point, but I don’t think he is ready to be the Super Bowl quarterback Rex Ryan thinks he is, and we saw that in his second career start in Foxboro.

Bill Belichick
Unless you’re a Patriots fan, it’s easy to hate Bill Belichick, and I think Patriots fans understand why non-Patriots fans hate him. He dresses like he came out of the Eric Prydz “Call on Me” video, usually wearing 1980s sweats, a shredded hoodie and a women’s headband. He is smug with the media, and his answers are more boring than Associated Press stories. He has very few redeeming qualities from a non-Patriots fan perspective, except for two things: He is a winner and he is a Yankees fan. And being a Yankees fan means a lot, at least to me it does. It made me go change my feelings about UNC’s Roy Williams, and it just might work with Belichick.

Bill Belichick is as much a symbol of winning as Tom Brady is in the NFL, and for all the criticism and abuse he takes about he conducts himself, the man puts a winning on the field every season. So many people were quick to predict the Jets to win the AFC East this season and write off the Patriots and their young and inexperienced defense. And when the Patriots traded Randy Moss, everyone thought Belichick was making a terrible mistake, the same way they did when he traded away Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour. But at some point I think we need to stop questioning Belichick’s coaching and personnel decisions.

He will never say it outright, but Monday night’s win was as big a regular season win as there is. But Belichick didn’t compare it to the Super Bowl or make it sound any more important than a win over the Lions. And that’s probably because he knows the difference between winning a Super Bowl and winning a game in Week 13 against your division rival.

Tom Brady
I should hate Tom Brady. He is a legend and an icon in Boston and has brought immense happiness three times to the sports city I hate more than any other. But everything about Tom Brady says I should like him.

He’s the Derek Jeter of football. He’s a winner. He says the right things (minus that Plaxico Burress defense comment). He wears a Yankees hat away from the football field and is married to a smokeshow. I think I want to be a fan of Tom Brady. I just don’t know if I can.

For some reason, Tom Brady is constantly doubted. Whether it’s “experts” picking against him in big games or people siding with Peyton Manning in the “Who’s The Better Quarterback Debate?” it seems like Tom Brady doesn’t get enough credit. I’m sure there are plenty of people who watched the game on ESPN last night and had to listen to Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski and John Gruden drool over him and who think that maybe Tom Brady gets too much attention, but doesn’t he deserve it? And if he doesn’t, who does?

Aside from making the Patriots the Yankees of the NFL and giving Boston three championships in a four-year span, Tom Brady is 0-1 against my team in big games, so I don’t have any real grudge against him, other than maybe his haircut. But I know one thing, and that is after his performance this season in what was supposed to be a down year for the Patriots, I will never doubt him again. He’s earned that.