By Mary Paoletti
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Welcome to Oz.
You must remind yourself that you've entered the home team's press room at New Meadowlands Stadium when you walk through the door. Otherwise you might feel lost. No, you will feel lost.
There are Jets logos displayed on and behind the podium like with any other team, but to take in their full reach you'll have to tilt your head back. The ceilings stretch to near-cathedral height. For better acoustics? For intimidation? Or maybe to accommodate the personality of Rex Ryan?
He handles the scene well. Though, who would doubt him? Ryan doesn't shy from much; not competition, not emotion, and certainly not attention. And he gets plenty of that at New Meadowlands.
The three walls of the press room not pasted with New York logos are solid glass. Floor to ceiling. So Ryan is not only performing his postgame for the media, but also for the mob of Jets fans that is allowed to gawk just outside. He actually has to walk through them to get to the lectern; a gratifying or harrowing experience, depending on the outcome of the game.
On Sunday they announced his arrival with a booming chant: "REX! REX! REX!"
"I'll say this, it's much nicer coming here after a win than it was last week," he began. The crowd roared its approval. They can do that, you see, because they can hear every word Ryan says. After a minute, he launches into the usual 'It's-about-the-team' bit. The enormous green banner lights that outline the room cast an eerie emerald glow on the coach. It makes the whole thing even weirder.
Against this awesome backdrop stood the earnest Cryin' Ryan. When asked to verify a detail about the injury that sidelined Darrelle Revis, the coach shook his head. "I believe that's right but I'm not 100 percent,'' he said. "I think I was in tears when he told me, 'I pulled a hamstring.' ''
He cracked jokes. Was this the best game Sanchez has played in his career? "No,'' Ryan deadpanned, "I think when he played Penn State that was his best game."
He complimented Belichick. "Maybe they just outplayed us at coach today."
He said 'I told you so.' "I didn't learn a whole lot about the Jets in Sunday's victory. I think a lot of other people learned that this team's a lot tougher than people think.''
And he tried to fool us. On "Hard Knocks" there was some questioning by the Jets of Sanchez' ability to take control of the team -- they brought on backup quarterback Mark Brunell as a veteran presence to help Sanchez deal with pressure. But on Sunday the Jets' bench boss was Sanchez's most loyal supporter.
"We never stopped believing,'' Ryan said. "We know this is the guy who could do it for us. We've been saying it all training camp.''
So it was classic Ryan after all. It's just that everything he does at New Meadowlands is larger-than-life, on a bigger stage, under brighter lights. The funny thing? It seems to be a perfect fit.