There was little doubt that the New York Giants would get the first regular-season game at the new Meadowlands Stadium, ahead of their co-tenants, the Jets. The Giants are among the NFL blue bloods, a storied franchise with generations of largely mainstream fans and usually the undivided attention of the New York media.
The Jets are the newer kids on the block, with roots in the renegade American Football League. Traditionally, they are the non-conformist's preference in the Big Apple. The NFL claims it flipped a coin to determine which team would break in the building with a real game. (It has housed exhibition games involving both.) Not surprisingly, the Giants won, an outcome that we must accept on the league's word; neither team had witnesses at the event.
In hindsight, the supposed flip worked out best for the Jets and the league. HBO's reality mini-series Hard Knocks, which eavesdropped on the Jets' training camp and made a cable television star out of the profane but charismatic coach Rex Ryan, has raised the team's national profile to the level of the Dallas Cowboys. It is appropriate that the Jets get coast-to-coast exposure with a gig tomorrow night against the Ravens, while the Giants engage in a quieter opening this afternoon with the Panthers.
Ryan has rankled NFL old-schoolers with his cockiness, much of it exposed on Hard Knocks. On an ESPN bus, he infamously wrote "soon to be champs", and he is vocally bullish on his team's Super Bowl chances. The show stirs love-'em or hate-'em sentiments within viewers, which was by design by the attention-seeking Jets. It is the Dallas blueprint. Ryan, no dummy, treated the episodes as weekly infomercials geared towards future free agents and trade candidates for the Jets. He is the proverbial players' coach, injecting fun into the dreary, Groundhog Day nature of the pre-season and detouring from the routine as much as the coaches' manual allows.
Ryan's foul mouth offended many, not the least of whom was the strait-laced ex-coach Tony Dungy and Rex's own mother. (Ryan apologized to her, not him.) But he endeared himself to many by pulling back the curtain and allowing viewers a peek into the secretive NFL world, which no doubt horrified the joyless anti-Ryans of coaching, such as the New England Patriots' dour Bill Belichick. On the inaugural episode, Ryan told his players, "I want to lead the league in the most [deleted] wins." Coaches often deliver that sort of message, but Ryan had the guts to blurt it in the presence of cameras and microphones. The Giants get first crack at the new stadium. Does that make them the warm-up act for the suddenly A-list Jets?
? Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots: While Cincinnati has the notoriously temperamental receivers Chad Ochochino and Terrell Owens, it was Randy Moss of the Pats who made waves this past week, saying he felt unwanted by the organization because his contract has not been extended. The quarterback Tom Brady soothed Moss's ego with kind words about how appreciated he is, then got his own contract extension that made him the league's best-paid player. ? Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: One of the league's classic rivalries is undergoing rehab as downtrodden Washington looks for new life under the coach Mike Shanahan and the quarterback Donovan McNabb, above, who could quickly become the most popular pair in DC. The summer's longest-running drama, between Shanahan and the recalcitrant defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, is unresolved, still, with Shanahan saying Haynesworth is a Redskin at least through the opening game. Today's other games: Carolina at NY Giants Atlanta at Pittsburgh Cleveland at Tampa Bay Denver at Jacksonville Indianapolis at Houston Miami at Buffalo Detroit at Chicago Oakland at Tennessee Arizona at St Louis San Francisco at Seattle Green Bay at Philadelphia Tomorrow: Baltimore at NY Jets San Diego at Kansas City Thursday: New Orleans 14, Minnesota 9 Stat of the week The Browns won their last four games of 2009; the Panthers won their last three. Both are expected to lose today. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org