Is it wrong to love Rex Ryan?

191548.jpg

Is it wrong to love Rex Ryan?

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Two episodes into this season of Hard Knocks on HBO, and I've got myself a little problem.

Actually, it's a big problem.

One big, fat, obnoxious, foul-mouthed problem:

It's Rex Ryan.

But the funny thing -- ironic funny, not Antonio Cromartie trying to name all his kids funny -- is that my issue with Rex has nothing to do with his language, brashness, or booming aesthetics. The problem's that I can't get enough of him. It's that I'm becoming a Rex Ryan fan.

Again, this is a problem.

First and most obviously, Ryan's the coach of the Jets. He's the leader of New England's fiercest rival. He's the single biggest (man, it's gonna be hard to lay off these fat jokes) threat to the Patriots' divisional dominance. He's the anti-Patriot. Any Ryan success will be predicated by Belichick failure.

God, here's a guy who -- since the day he took over -- has gone out of his way to antagonize New England, belittle the Pats and, in the process, put together a pretty damned dangerous team. And I'm buying into his shtick, laughing hysterically every time he opens his mouth and texting my friends every five minutes with things like: " 'His nuts dropped right in front of us' !?!"

The New Englander in me feels dirty.

But after two hours of Hard Knocks, the football fan in me has taken over. They say you can't choose who you love, and for better or worse, I love Rex Ryan.

If you've watched the show, you understand why.

Sure, you can be offended by his language (sorry, St. Dungy), annoyed by his cockiness, or just overwhelmed by the fact that he never ever shuts up. By themselves, those are all hate-worthy traits. But in this case all those ridiculous qualities, and countless others, morph into a larger-than-life cartoon character. The classic comedic fat guy with the passion of the world's biggest football fan and the schooling of a defensive mastermind, all squeezed under a green Jets hat.

The fact that the hat's green is unfortunate, but Ryan's appeal is undeniable.

There are guys who might love coaching as much as Ryan does, but none of them wear it so blatantly every second of the day. It doesn't matter if it's the first whistle of morning practice or the moment after his last curfew check, Ryan waddles around that complex with a grin that says, "Really, these suckers are paying me millions a year to do this?"

He talks about football the way a pothead talks about HD Discovery. It's like every defensive shift, hard hit or crushing block is the most magical thing he's ever seen. He's completely high on football. And regardless of where his intentions lie, and how those might affect the Patriots, me, or anyone in New England, it very hard to take at least a little joy in watching a guy do something he loves so much.

Hell, I can watch him do anything. Even the way he eats M&M's -- slovenly leaning back his chair, aggressively firing them into his mouth from a couple inches away -- cracks me up. Or the way he flings a tennis ball around meeting like he's killing time in his freshman dorm. Or the way he laughs at the commenters who make fun of him on ESPN.com . . .

OK, I think this column just got weird.

So let's get back to the important question: How big of a problem is this love affair with the coach of the Jets? Is it all right for a Patriots fan to have anything but contempt for the leader of their most-hated rival?

For reasons not entirely unselfish, yes, I'm going to allow it.

And it comes down to this:

Sports fandom has changed.

You know how all the older, retired athletes are constantly criticizing today's superstars for their lack of competitiveness? The way Barkley, Magic, Michael and Larry all spoke out against the new Big Three in Miami?

Well, just as today's athletes have ever-so-slightly taken their foot off the competitive pedal, so has today's fan.

Ever had Peyton Manning on a fantasy team? Ever rooted for one of your fantasy players in a game against the Pats? Would you take Shonn Greene if he were still available in the fourth round of your draft?

I'm guessing that's a yes, yes and yes. (If "no" on that last one, I hope you're in my league)

Over the past 15 years or so, with the insane popularity of fantasy sports and, to a lesser extent, video games, we've been constantly forced into situations where it's OK to root for another team, or another player, without surrendering your loyalty to your team. If it's the fourth quarter and the Pats are up 30-3 on the Bills, it's all right to give a fist pump when your flex guy Fred Jackson breaks a 75-yard touchdown. It's an accepted and understood part of being an NFL fan.

Twenty years ago, fans would have beat you silly over the idea that it was reasonable to cheer for a Jet or Dolphin. That would have sounded crazier than Magic signing in Boston to play with Larry. But now we do it every Sunday.

So, if it's OK to appreciate other NFL players, why not an NFL coach? Why not the coach of the Jets?

Being a Rex Ryan fan doesn't make you a Jets fan. It doesn't make you any less of a Pats fan. It doesn't mean you'll be wearing a green helmet and a Sexy Rexy t-shirt to Gillette on December 6.

It just makes you a fan of big, fat, obnoxious, foul-mouthed football coaches.

Which might be a problem of a different (deeper) kind, but as far as the Pats go, you're in the clear.

Well, great. I feel better now.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

red_sox_blake_swihart_052616.jpg

Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 10-3 win over the Colorado Rockies:

 

QUOTES

"I felt a little cramp. I'm fine. I appreciate John and everybody looking out (for me). We obviously don't want anything to happen like last year, but I'm good.'' - Dustin Pedroia, who left the game in the fifth after experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring.

"It's nice to be able to get deep into the game. That's my goal every time. My goal is nine innings, so if I don't get nine innings, I'm a little disappointed because I want to be able to go out there and pitch as many innings as I can.'' - Steven Wright.

"I think my release point was just a little off. That definitely makes it hard, especially when it's moving, because it's not a consistent release point.'' - Wright on the early-inning unpredictability of his signature pitch.

"Even when I was catching, I pride myself on running. I want to be an athlete back there. I want to run the bases, steal bases, things most catchers aren't known to do.'' - Blake Swihart, who hit two triples.

 

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 29 games.

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 18 games.

* David Ortiz tied Paul Molitor for 12th on the all-time doubles list with 605.

* Ortiz has driven in multiple runs in three straight games

* Dustin Pedroia has a career batting average of .340 in interleague play, the highest ever for someone with 500 or more at-bats.

* Travis Shaw drove in three runs and now has 68 RBI in his first 111 games since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in 1974-75.

* Blake Swihart became the third Red Sox hitter this season to post two triples in the same game.

* The Red Sox clinched their fifth straight home series win.

* The Sox are 21-8 since April 24 and are 13-2 in their last 15 home games.

 

STARS

1) Steven Wright

Backed by some rare run support, Wright evened his record at 4-4 with seven-plus innings and his eighth quality start this season.

2) Travis Shaw

Shaw produced two hits and knocked in three runs, making him the fourth Red Sox player this season to reach 30 RBI.

3) Blake Swihart

Swihart got to flash both his power and his speed by hitting two triples to the triangle, motoring around the bases.

 

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

jimmy-vesey-033016.jpg

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.