Is it wrong to love Rex Ryan?

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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

Bradley on return to Celtics lineup: 'I wish I played a little bit more'

Bradley on return to Celtics lineup: 'I wish I played a little bit more'

BOSTON – Before Monday’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley talked about how hard it was going to be for both him and head coach Brad Stevens to accept his minutes restriction.

The 6-foot-2 guard, returning to the lineup after missing 18 straight games with a right Achilles injury, logged just under 15 minutes (14:58) on Monday while scoring six points on 2-for-4 shooting as well as tallying a game-high three steals.

“I wish I played a little bit more,” Bradley said following the game. “But it felt good to be out there.”

Stevens had similar thoughts on Bradley’s limited return.

“Both Avery and I, we were both like, maybe five more minutes or six more minutes,” Stevens said. “But the plan going in was to play him through that first half, hopefully two good stints, about 15 minutes, and then increase that piece by piece over the next few games.”

Despite the long layoff, Bradley looked very much like the Avery Bradley that was playing at a near All-Star level prior to the injury.

You figure even with the long lay-off, Bradley’s defense was going to be close to where it was earlier this season.

But the fact that he was able to quickly get into a nice shooting rhythm – he made his first shot attempt – was indeed a pleasant surprise to him.

“I’ve been able to just get shots up and I was a little nervous to see how it was going to translate in the game,” Bradley said. “But I felt comfortable out there. I just tried to focus on defense and I told myself if I focus on defense I’ll make shots on the offensive end.”

Prior to the injury, Bradley was averaging 17.7 points per game which was second on the team, along with a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game.

With his minutes being limited for at least this first week, there’s no telling how long it will take for Bradley to start posting those numbers again.

But Monday was a great first step in the right direction for a player whose talents will be essential for the Celtics to have the kind of finish to the regular season that they want going into the playoffs.

While building up towards being at the top of his game is certainly a goal Bradley has for himself, patience, trusting the rehabilitation process while maxing out his production with a small window of playing time, are all keys to his recovery.

“I wish it was split up or something in the second half but it is what it is,” said Bradley, referring to his playing time being limited to 15 or so minutes now. “I just have to go out there, no matter how many minutes I get, and play as hard as I can. That has to be my mindset.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas 'not worried' about end of scoring streak

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas 'not worried' about end of scoring streak

BOSTON – You knew sooner or later, Isaiah Thomas’ impressive scoring streak of games with 20 or more points had to come to an end.

That time was Monday night as Thomas had 19 points in Boston’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

While the Hawks certainly played well defensively against Thomas and the rest of the Celtics, the 5-foot-9 guard is quick to acknowledge that the Hawks didn’t all of a sudden come up with a game plan that can shut him down.

“They didn’t do anything special,” said Thomas after missing 17 of his 21 shot attempts. “I just missed a lot of shots in the paint that I usually make. I got to where I wanted to, but that wasn’t just me it was our team. We missed a lot of shots that we usually make and you got to tip your hat off to the Atlanta Hawks.”

In doing so, Thomas’ franchise-record streak of consecutive games with 20 or more points now stands at 43.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens saw first-hand how his players – including Thomas – missed a lot of shots they usually make.

But limiting Boston offensively always starts with how you defend Thomas.

“They were really aggressive on him,” Stevens said. “They were really tough on him. They bodied him up, they were physical, they had a bunch of different guys on him at different times, they were very active off of the screens.”

And as far as his streak of games with at least 20 points, Thomas said he’s not disappointed that it has come to an end.

“I’ll break it again,” he said. “I’m not worried about it, I’ll break it.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game which ended with a 114-98 Celtics loss to Atlanta.

 

STARS

Dennis Schroder

He was arguably the biggest difference-maker on the floor Monday night. In addition to doing an exceptional job defending Isaiah Thomas, he also led the Hawks with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting with four rebounds and five assists.

Dwight Howard

His ejection aside, Howard’s presence around the rim at both ends of the floor caused major problems for Boston. He finished with a double-double of 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting along with 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.

Isaiah Thomas

The Hawks did about as good a job as we’ve seen any team at defending Thomas who still managed to lead the Celtics in scoring with 19 points on 4-for-21 shooting. For a minute there, he seemed to be flirting with a quadruple-double. In addition to his 19 points, he also had seven rebounds, seven assists and seven turnovers.

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown

His play was one of the few positives for Boston. He came off the bench to score 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting to go with five rebounds.

Taurean Prince

Only Paul Millsap logged more minutes on Monday than Prince whose defense and rebounding were huge. He had a near double-double of eight points and 12 rebounds.

 

DUDS

Celtics’ rebounding

This could be a dud for Boston almost every game, but they were worse than usual on Monday night. Atlanta had a 55-40 advantage on the boards which contributed to them dominating points in the paint (60-34), second-chance points (20-11) and fast-break points (15-7) which was fueled by rebounds followed by quick outlet passes to players in transition.