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

Robinson Cano, Guillermo Heredia homer in Mariners' 5-0 win over Red Sox

ap_17148654925809.jpg

Robinson Cano, Guillermo Heredia homer in Mariners' 5-0 win over Red Sox

BOSTON (AP)  Christian Bergman rebounded from a miserable start with seven shutout innings and the Seattle Mariners halted Boston's season-high six-game winning streak with a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox on Sunday.

Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer and Guillermo Heredia a solo shot for the Mariners, who averted a three-game sweep with just their second win in nine games. Seattle was shut out the first two games.

Bergman (2-2) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out two. He got a lot of help from his infielders when they turned a double play in each of the first four innings.

Three relievers completed the combined five-hitter, with closer Edwin Diaz getting the final three outs despite two errors by infielders.

Bergman was tagged for 14 hits and 10 runs over four innings in a loss his previous start.

Rick Porcello (3-6) gave up 11 hits, but only two runs in 6 1/3 innings.

Seattle finished one off its club record for most double plays turned in a game.

After being shut out for the first 21 innings of the series, the Mariners moved ahead 1-0 in the fourth when Kyle Seager raced home from third after Porcello bounced a pitch that went over catcher Sandy Leon's right shoulder and onto the screen. Seager had doubled leading off and advanced on Danny Valencia's single.

Heredia homered over the Green Monster in the eighth and Cano sent his into the center-field bleachers an inning later.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, had another bullpen session Sunday because he wasn't happy with one a day earlier.

Red Sox: Manager John Farrell said 3B Pablo Sandoval, out since late April with a sprained right knee, will stay on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket to get his "timing going" with more at-bats.

ROSTER MOVES

Seattle sent Saturday's losing pitcher, RHP Rob Whalen, to Triple-A Tacoma and brought up RHP Ryne Harper from the same club.

The Red Sox also made moves with pitchers, sending Saturday's winner, lefty Brian Johnson, to Triple-A Pawtucket and promoting RHP Blaine Boyer for a day. Boyer will go back down Monday when ace David Price is activated.

Boyer made his Red Sox debut, retiring the only two batters he faced.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Sam Gaviglio (0-1, 1.38 ERA) is set to make his third major-league start when they open a two-game series Monday at Colorado. RHP Tyler Chatwood (4-6, 4.50) is scheduled for the Rockies.

Red Sox: LHP Price makes his season debut Monday in Chicago against the White Sox after being sidelined since early spring training with a strained left elbow.

--

More AP baseball coverage:https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Brian Johnson admits he almost retired one year ago due to anxiety

Brian Johnson admits he almost retired one year ago due to anxiety

Brian Johnson almost called it a career at age 25 -- just one year before he went on to throw a complete game shutout at Fenway Park.

He finished Saturday's 6-0 win over the Mariners with eight strikeouts and five hits allowed. To get on the mound at Fenway, he had to overcome a serious bout with anxiety and depression. Things came to a head roughly a year ago.

"At that point in time, I was ready to hang 'em up," Johnson told Mike Giardi and Rob Bradford on WEEI radio Sunday. "I wasn't happy, wasn't sleeping through the night, woke up in cold sweats. I just wasn't happy."

But when things got most challenging, Johnson asked for help, which made all the difference, he explained. He broke down on the phone with his father, and discussed all of the issues he'd been struggling with. Then he spoke on the phone with Red Sox mental skills coach Laz Gutierrez, who helped him game plan to fight against his anxiety and depression. Baseball was one of Johnson's problems, and he was considering cutting it out of his life.

"Yes, there were thoughts in my head where I was like, 'What else would I do with my life?'" Johnson said. "I don't think it was baseball. I mean, yes, I would be lying if I didn't say it was that. I think it was a lot of things. Where I was at in my life, I was only a baseball player, and people only saw me as a baseball player. I was just letting everything build up. I think it stemmed all from when I hurt my elbow. I didn't have any feeling in my hand."

He began to worry about whether the feeling in his hand would disappear during his starts. He'd knock his funny bone and the feeling would be gone. That was only one manifestation of his anxieties.

"I just felt like there microscope on me 24/7," he said, "and that's kind of what let's your mind play tricks on you.'

He added: "If I didn't say anything, I don't think there's any chance I'd be here playing baseball. And it is taboo. I always thought -- the reason it took me so long was because, if I say something, they're never going to trust me again. 'How is he able to perform if he's having anxiety and depression problems.' . . . And lo and behold, I think I have more trust now that I said something."

Johnson just kept getting back on the field by throwing one inning at a time until he started having fun again. Fast forward to Sunday, Johnson has two starts for the Sox for a 2.57 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 14 innings. He has also posted a 2.82 ERA in seven starts and 44.2 innings pitched in the minors.

But some unfortunate news followed his moment of triumph against the Mariners on Saturday. Johnson is heading back down to Pawtucket. The Sox optioned him with David Price rejoining the rotation.

"I would have loved to stay," Johnson said. "But I'm happy to do what they want me to . . . It stinks I'm getting sent down and optioned. But like I told John (Farrell) and like I told Dave (Dombrowski), 'I'm just going to keep working hard. Whenever you guys need me, I'm ready.'

Johnson said he wasn't riding a high of confidence after his excellent outing. He's keeping a level-head, and approaching the game the same way he did before his complete game. But he did admit he had a particularly special moment Saturday. After the game, his dad congratulated Johnson with a hug on the field at Fenway.

Johnson said: "That was the moment I was probably most grateful for everything."