It must've been weird the first time a person ate a raw oyster.
One day, somewhere roughly between 27 and 20,000 years ago, a presumably hungry fella emerged from the sea, cracked open the jagged shell of an oyster, looked at the gray, viscous mess inside, and decided to dump it down his throat. The people sunbathing on the beach that day had to be shocked and horrified. I, though, would like to thank that courageous guy. If it weren't for him, I might never have known the pleasure of slurpin' down a dozen or so oysters when I find myself seaside.
How's this relate to the NFL? Well, I'm glad I asked.
Ultimate player's coach
The last two weeks of playoff football have given us plenty of fantastic storylines, but by far and away the most talked-about subject is trash talking; specifically, Rex Ryan's trash talking and the responses it's elicited from the opposition.
Why? Because -- just like that shellfish-eating pioneer -- Rex seems to be doing things differently than they've ever been done before. NFL head coaches aren't supposed to be trash-talking wiseacres. Or at least, they weren't until Rex hit the scene. But is it wrong for a coach to run down the sidelines to join in the player pig pile -- like Rex did after Shonn Greene's game-clincher last Sunday -- just 'cause Tom Landry never did it?
Maybe the problem is that the T.O.chcos of the world have given trash talking a bad name. Maybe the NFL's affliction with diva receiver-itis has conditioned us sports fans to associate any player or coach's outspokenness with egomania. Heaven forbid you'd ever hear one of the supposedly good guys like Tom Brady flapping his gums. He's been coached to show no personality. Here in the 21st-century Twitterverse, it's become a virtue to say nothing. That's too bad, and not just because it makes press conferences more enjoyable to watch.
Talking some trash doesn't have to be empty fun. Just ask Muhammad Ali. Seems to me his rhymes and wisecracks had a legitimate strategic effect on the likes of Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Likewise, opponents and old-school NFLers might not enjoy Rex's commentary, but his players obviously do. And after two good -- but not great -- regular seasons, his postseason results are hard to argue with.
Go inside the matchup
As far as I'm concerned, the Jets winning in Foxborough six weeks after losing by six touchdowns was a bigger surprise than the 7-9 Seahawks knocking off the defending champs. It doesn't take Dr Phil to figure out Rex wasn't recklessly shooting his mouth off when he talked about his "personal" showdown with Bill Belichick (and Peyton Manning the week prior). It was a calculated act done not out of ego but in the interest of taking the pressure off his players and putting it onto the opposition.
Of course, no one would be talking about Rex if Nick Folk's last-second kick in Indy had hit the upright. Then again, if D-Day had gone a little bit worse, this column would be about die Bundesliga instead of the NFL. History is written by the winners, so they say, and that's why the puritanical old guard will be rooting against the Jets in Heinz this Sunday. If Rex loses, it'll strike a blow against his newfangled ways, not to mention keep him from consuming the Super Bowl spotlight for the next two weeks.
Problem for the curmudgeons is, the coach standing across from Rex this Sunday ain't exactly Vince Lombardi, either… unless, of course, there's some lost footage of Lombardi celebrating a good hit with high-fives and shadowboxing. Mike Tomlin has continued the Steelers' winning ways, but he's done it in his own distinctive way.
It wasn't too long ago that Tomlin himself was comparable to that inaugural oyster eater. But after he won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, a lot of other teams began a search for a Coach Tomlin of their own. Matter of fact, Rex may even owe a debt of gratitude to Tomlin for expanding the perception of what head coaches should look and sound like.
Whether it's some form of karmic payback or not, I expect the Steelers to beat the Jets on Sunday, 20-10. Two weeks later, I think they'll be playing the Packers (who'll beat the Bears, 24-7) in the Super Bowl. Imagine that: Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh. On one side, the Packers, battling for the trophy named after their franchise's former coach; on the other side, the Steelers, who've won said trophy more than any other team in history. In other words, it'd be a classic showdown with more than enough to please any football fan.
In the meantime, though, let's not discount what Rex has accomplished: from 'Hard Knocks' to Heinz Field, he's made the season fun. Maybe he's even shown coaches like Bill Belichick that they don't have to act like they're at a funeral to win games. For that, I'd like to buy Rex a g**damn snack. Maybe a fried oyster sandwich would make sense.