Word from the Islanders is that Rex Ryan will be dropping the puck at tomorrow night's opening faceoff. A great move, to be sure - the Jets are red-hot, and Ryan is arguably the most popular coach in New York right now. As a Jets fan, I love it. But I can't help but feel like there's more to this story than meets the eye.
Most people confuse Rex Ryan's bluster as sheer arrogance, but that's not entirely the case. He talks a lot, but with a very specific goal - to change the culture of his team. Being a Jets fan has always meant failure, being let down at the worst possible moment and never winning the big game. Rex Ryan was smart enough to realize the team's - and the fans' - entire outlook had to change. When he said he wasn't here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings, it wasn't a shot at a rival team. It was a clear message to the players and fans that the Jets should view themselves as the Patriots' equals. When he unveiled his playoff itinerary that went all the way up to the Jets' eventual visit to the White House, he wanted everyone to believe the Jets had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. He encouraged fans and players alike to visualize the ultimate outcome in their minds and consider it a distinct possibility.
To say Rex Ryan's methods have worked is a gross understatement. When I watched the Jets play the Colts in the AFC Championship Game in January, I truly believed the Jets could and would win. The possibility of losing didn't even enter my thoughts. That was NEVER the case before. In years prior, I kept my guard up, knowing the Jets would eventually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But no more. Today, the Jets are considered a winning organization; the stigma of countless losing seasons and crushing defeats is virtually non-existent.
So, then, is it a coincidence that Rex Ryan is dropping the puck on Opening Night? Not in the least. He turned the Jets fanbase from hapless lamenters into rabid fans who believe their team should win each week. This is exactly the kind of paradigm shift the Islanders desperately need. True, it won't happen just by having a local coach drop a puck before a game. But Rex Ryan has proven that it can be done, and don't think for a second he won't address the Islanders and tell them they can change their organization as well.
Tomorrow night, as the puck is dropped, each player, coach and fan should look at Rex Ryan tomorrow night and say to themselves, "Hey, we can turn this thing around." After all, it took Rex Ryan just a year and a half to transform the Jets in his image. Who's to say the Islanders can't do the same thing?