They knew it was juvenile. They knew it was worthy of a high school locker room. Burn the boats? Fine. "We still got to get back to the airport, though," Ellis notes, wryly. Yet they ate it up anyway, and have been using it ever since.
"Burn your boats," Ellis says. "Definitely. It means go out there and leave nothing behind. I'm not going to say this is war, but basically, just go out there and don't intend on coming back. Just leave it all on the field."
Similarly, Ryan made a "personal" grudge match out of a seemingly unwinnable playoff game against the superior New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, who had embarrassed them in an early December game on Monday Night Football, 45-3. Ryan summoned ex-Jet Dennis Byrd, partially paralyzed in on-field incident in 1992, to deliver a tear jerking pregame address. "I would give anything for one more play," Byrd said. Ryan then produced the jersey that had been cut off him while he lay prone on the field.
Ryan also messed with the heads of the opposition. He insulted Brady for not studying and baited Patriots Coach Bill Belichick by pronouncing him the greatest coach in the game.
"I thought what he did against Belichick was brilliant," Billick said. "If they lose, [Belichick's] the best coach in football, and if they win, it's 'Hey we just beat the best coach in football.' "
By kickoff the Jets were sky-high. Meantime the Patriots were almost "devoid of emotion," Billick observed, because they had devoted so much energy to trying to ignore Ryan. Ryan then delivered a knockout punch of a game plan that stymied the top offense in the league and left Brady spinning in a 28-21 upset.
Can he do it one more time? If the Jets win Sunday, they will have defeated the Indianapolis Colts, Patriots and Steelers - teams that in the last decade have combined for six Super Bowl rings and five league MVPs - all on the road. It's perhaps the toughest path to the Super Bowl ever. Considering the prospect, Ryan grins, teeth big as piano keys. His big voice comes from deep in his gut. "I think we're just the men for the job," he says.
But if so, it will be because Ryan reached down and once again found the boy in all of them, with his childish and grand improvisations. "I want that green-and-white confetti coming down," he says. "We want to hold the trophy. . . . We want that to be ours. We want the hat. We want the T-shirts."
A father's influence
Ryan's own boyhood was a succession of moves and brawls, as he followed his father around the league. Buddy Ryan was at once an innovator and a pugnacious old schooler, a Korean War master-sergeant who devised new defenses based on the primitive idea that the more you hit people, the better. A nomadic, feuding career took him to the Jets, the Vikings, the Bears, the Eagles, the Oilers and the Cardinals, before he retired 15 years ago to work a horse farm in Kentucky, where this week he answered the phone with a gruff, "Whacha got?"