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New York Jets coach Rex Ryan celebrates with fans after they defeated the Buffalo Bills in their final National Football League regular season game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 2, 2011. The Jets won 38-7. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (RAY STUBBLEBINE)
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan celebrates with fans after they defeated the Buffalo Bills in their final National Football League regular season game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 2, 2011. The Jets won 38-7. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (RAY STUBBLEBINE)

Jets coach with roots in Toronto

Toronto's own Rex Ryan Add to ...

Rex Ryan is a star. He was trending that way anyway, being the head coach of an NFL team in the hottest media market in the world will do that to a guy. Being a successful head coach will help but being the kind of successful coach who seems to crave being the centre of attention, and then pulls one of the more impressive upsets in recent NFL playoff history?

That pretty much makes it a lock.

So, while Ryan has gone out of his way to play all nicey-nice with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in advance of Sunday's Jets-Steelers AFC Championship and thus robbing the world of another week of throbbing headlines, we might as well take the opportunity to claim Ryan as one of our own.

Ryan is from Toronto.

Well, that might be stretching it a bit

Ryan did spend a lot time in the city growing up. His mother was a professor and an administrator at the University of Toronto and he lived with his twin brother Rob and older brother Jimmy after his mother Doris left the life of a football coach's wife behind. The twins lived in Toronto from ages four to 14 before they were sent to live with their Dad -- NFL coaching legend Buddy Ryan -- in Minnesota as they were getting to be out of hand.

But as kids they were raised at the intersection of York Mills and Bayview, liviing in some townhouses there; and played hockey but not football -- they got kicked out of the league for being too rough -- and were early Blue Jays fans.

He got into hockey, as you might expect: "I always wanted to be out there on the ice," he said. "That's what was so weird about hockey, you kept shifting in and out. I was like 'No, I'm going to play goalie because he's out there all the time, plus he had the coolest equipment.' So, that's what I did."

Ryan said his experience as a goalie, and also as a catcher in baseball, helped prepare him for some things later in life.

"I'm just used to having things thrown at me, obviously, as a coach," he quipped. "I was a natural, but it was a lot of fun."

One of their older brother's friends was Steve Simmons, the Toronto Sun columnist:

The kid who sat beside me in Grade 12 geography class at York Mills Collegiate turned to a group of us one day and announced: "My dad coaches in the NFL." And after we stopped laughing, we went on the next subject. "No," the kid insisted. "You want to go the Bills game this weekend? I can get free tickets. I'll get the tickets, all you have to do is come up with a lift." None of us were about to argue about free tickets, even if we weren't sure about the veracity of the coaching story. We didn't know Jimmy Ryan all that well. He was new to the school. But, hey, free tickets were free tickets. We didn't know his father was Buddy Ryan; we didn't know that name at that time. We thought we knew the NFL. We just thought the story was too far-fetched. Who in Toronto goes to school with a kid whose father coaches in the NFL? My dad sold blouses. The other fathers I knew best were accountants, office workers, manufacturers or clothing store operators.

So we got in the car, drove to Buffalo, and there waiting for us were free tickets. That was cool. The day got better when we opened the massive NFL program and saw the name beside linebacker coach, New York Jets: Buddy Ryan. When the game ended we were told to wait in a certain area. We stood there. Jim disappeared to see his dad. When he returned, he was holding some black and white photographs, one of them remains framed in my office to this day, autographed with a green pen, the colour of the Jets. "To Steve," it reads, "Peace. Joe Namath."

So there, if your looking for a rooting interest this Sunday, maybe that will help.

Otherwise, I encourage reading in full this profile of Ryan from the New York Times Magazine; which makes him out to be one of those rare figures who is truly larger than life; a legitimate football savant who also happens to be an outsized character able to win over the affection of the men who play for him -- kind of like Don Cherry if Don Cherry was a technical genius too.

There are a lot of great passages, but this is one that I certainly enjoyed: During high school, one of Ryan's girlfriends was a 20-year-old Playboy bunny. "Met her at a roller rink," he says. "Roz was her name. There was always a couples-skate thing. You asked people to skate with you. I drew the arm back! I went for it. I'd seen her before. Holy smoking! She was gorgeous. I thought, The hell with it, you only live once. She said, 'O.K.!' I was shocked. That night my brother and I took her and her friend out for pancakes."

As he talks, Ryan senses doubt. "Verification call!" he cries, and switching on the speakerphone, he dials up Rob in Cleveland.

"Hey, Rob!"

"What's up, buddy?"

"Calling on some verification. Talk to me about Roz."

"Roz! Best-looking chick in history! This chick's so out of everybody's league, Brad Pitt had no chance! And Rex, Mr. Smooth! Hits her with 'Where are you from, heaven? You look like an angel to me!' And she bought it!"

"I forgot that!"

"It's Ripley's!"







 

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