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Rex Ryan autobiography serves as Jets time capsule


There are few things as unintentionally amusing as the superfluous autobiography.

Trees gave their life so Erik Estrada could tell his life story. A copy editor spent time away from his children during the holidays to fact-check Vanilla Ice. The fourth-most popular guy in 'N Sync opened his mailbox one day and found a publisher's five-figure advance check. This is why the terrorists hate us.

This was the company New York Jets coach Rex Ryan surely wished to avoid when his autobiography, "Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game," hit bookstores on May 3, 2011. By that time, Ryan had established himself as one of the NFL's most charismatic figures. He was successful, too, leading the typically downtrodden Jets to back-to-back AFC title games.

Co-written by longtime Sports Illustrated scribe Don Yaeger, "Play Like You Mean It" received generally good reviews and made a modest commercial splash, debuting at No. 11 on the New York Times' best sellers list. A breezy read, it was a perfect Father's Day gift for the masochistic Jets fan in your life.

Knowing the dramatic reversal in Ryan's career fortunes that followed the release of the book -- and having said masochistic Jets fan streak in my own DNA -- I made the decision to track down a copy of "Play Like You Mean It" to see how it's held up.

What I found in those 280 pages was a time capsule. Rex Ryan wanted to write a book about the beginning of a great future for the New York Jets. Instead, he accidentally managed to distill everything that's frustrating about being a fan of New York's other team.

At its core, "Play Like You Mean It" serves as a history piece looking back at the 2010 Jets, a team that finished 11-5, beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the playoffs then lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Along the way, Ryan explains his origin story and close relationship with his father (former NFL coach Buddy Ryan) and twin brother (current New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan). He's candid in discussing the challenges brought upon by dyslexia and struggles with his weight that led to his decision to undergo Lap-Band surgery.

He treads lightly on his wife's alleged foot fetish video and the Ines Sainz training camp incident, the two most salacious aspects of his early tenure.

The timing of the book always was strange. Though he's hardly the first public figure to pen a premature memoir, there was something off about Ryan celebrating what he'd accomplished with a Jets team that hadn't -- and still hasn't -- ventured beyond the AFC playoff bracket since 1969.

So why did Ryan agree to the project? Ostensibly for the same reason Lance Bass did -- to make money. It's kind of hard to fault him for that, but you have to wonder if Ryan ever had reservations given the fact that his journey to that point very much was a work in progress.

The decision also speaks to the core of the Rex Ryan Experience. Ryan is a vigorous believer in self and the men he leads. He felt comfortable calling the Jets the team everyone wants to play for because -- in his mind -- success already had been predetermined. It wasn't a matter of if, but when.

Still, Ryan doesn't necessarily come off poorly in the book. He's clearly passionate about his job and is achingly earnest about making the Jets a premier NFL franchise. He's self-deprecating and funny in a vulgar uncle kind of way. His biggest weakness is perception versus reality. By the end of the book, he believes the Jets already have reached royalty status. Delusions of grandeur pepper most chapters.

"We're right there now, and everybody knows it. That's why I don't back down when people ask if we're going to win the Super Bowl. The answer is yes. We're going to do it."

"The bottom line for me and the Jets is, we'll get there," Ryan writes late in the final chapter. "We're right there now, and everybody knows it. That's why I don't back down when people ask if we're going to win the Super Bowl. The answer is yes. We're going to do it."

As you read, it's not hard to imagine a swaggering Ryan at a promotional appearance at the Barnes & Noble in East Rutherford, N.J., a 2,000-pound anvil dangling over his head. There are sections where you want to jump into the book like an A-Ha character and warn Ryan about the fiery meteor headed his way.

On Mark Sanchez: "Who wouldn't want to be responsible for making Mark a Jet? There isn't a single person in this franchise who doesn't respect him as a person and as a player. Honestly, the kid is unbelievable. He's not just a guy with GQ good looks and a good arm. He's the real deal. He has all the intangibles: talent, charisma intellect, and leadership abilities. I believe Mark's going to be extraordinary in the NFL."

(Sanchez had 52 turnovers over the next two seasons and was benched by Ryan -- twice -- before the Jets drafted Geno Smith in April.)

On the New York Giants: "Some people like to say the Giants are the big brother team and the Jets are the little brother team. I know it's going to piss off every Giants fan to hear this, but here you go: I really don't care. We came to New York City to be the best team in the NFL, not just the best team in New York City. And I have news for you: We are the better team. We're the big brother."

(The Giants won the Super Bowl nine months after "Play Like You Mean It" hit shelves. Also, there was a particularly grim 99-yard Victor Cruz touchdown that more or less serves as the line of demarcation between the Jets being contenders and a bad Jay Leno punch line. Additionally, Brandon Jacobs told Ryan to "shut up, fat boy." Bad times all around on this front.)

More on Sanchez: "I refer to him as "my baby." I know that may not be the masculine way to put it, but it's the truth, he is absolutely my baby. He wasn't just my first draft pick as an NFL head coach; he was the first of many important decisions I was going to make for this franchise. He's my guy, and I'm damn proud of it! I still have his draft card at home, tucked away in a drawer. I plan to get it framed one day."

(There's been a Butt-Fumble. Also, other other butt stuff.)

Given all that's happened, after 8-8 and 6-10 and Tim Tebow and the loss of Darrelle Revis and Mike Tannenbaum, it's fair to wonder: Is Ryan still the same guy who wrote "Play Like You Mean It"?

"He's been humbled, of course," said Manish Mehta, who has covered Ryan's entire Jets tenure for the New York Daily News. "You can't go through what the team has gone through in the last two years and not be. Is he different? No, I think he still believes in his players. I think he still believes there's a chance his team can be successful, more than others may believe. But he knows -- in my estimation -- he can't help but realize that there's a talent void on the roster."

"The one thing that's always been consistent with Rex is that he's always had a strong belief in his abilities."

That momentous belief in self helped to birth "Play Like You Mean It." It captures a moment in time that Ryan and the Jets have been chasing ever since.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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