"Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him"
Anyone with any respect for American cinema knows that quote didn't come from Rex Ryan. It's Tessio trying to explain himself after Michael Corleone figures out that he's turned against the family as he tries to plead for his life. After listening to the way Ryan talked about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Monday, however, we can imagine hearing the same thing coming out of his mouth if the Jets should find their way to the Super Bowl.
Ryan, the mouth that launched a million opinion columns, had nothing but nice things to say about Tomlin and the Steelers when he met with the media. He told some great stories about their battles when Ryan was with the Ravens and called Tomlin one of his favorite coaches as he avoided any goading to make this week's game as personal as the ones against the Colts and Patriots.
On the one hand, that's understandable. The Colts beat the Jets in last year's AFC title game and the Patriots are bitter rivals who came in off a 45-3 victory in their last matchup. The Jets beat the Steelers earlier this season and don't have a particularly long history or antagonizing the Jets. And, on top of that, you don't need to make a game with the Super Bowl on the line personal to make it matter.
On the other hand, though, what the hell are we supposed to talk about all week?
Ryan might not want to make it personal, but there are some ways that this game is very personal. We might as well start with the coach. This is Ryan's third straight trip to the AFC Championship Game and his second visit to Pittsburgh in one of those games. That's a nice record of success, but it doesn't mean much if you can't get over the hump. Marv Levy was an entertaining guy and Andy Reid is pleasantly plump, but neither one of them stands near the top of the pantheon of coaching.
You've also got Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson with some skin in the game. Both guys came to the Jets for a chance to play in the Super Bowl that has eluded them throughout their superlative careers. No one likes to go down in history as the guy who couldn't win the big one and, for Taylor anyway, a trip to the big game could be the acheivement that gets you in the Hall of Fame.
Braylon Edwards exorcised some demons with his eight catch, 100-yard performance in the 22-17 win earlier this year, but he's probably still got some animosity for Steel City. He said he hated the city before that matchup, so what better way to express your distaste for the environs than ending the Steelers' quest for a seventh title?
But no one has more of a personal stake in this game than Santonio Holmes. He's steered clear of expressing any personal animus for the team that dealt him for a fifth-round pick. Lord knows he could gin some up after going for such a puny price after years as one of the best receivers in the game. The Steelers, upset at his off-field issues, basically cut him and, in the process, called him damaged goods that weren't worth the effort.
That they did that would be shocking in any season. That they did it at the same moment that they were backing up Ben Roethlisberger could easily be seen as insulting. Holmes might just feel a little extra incentive to make them pay for that slight this Sunday
When there's so much at stake, there's not really a point between drawing a line between business and personal. Everything is all mixed up because you can't have one without the other. Michael Corleone got that. We're pretty sure Rex Ryan gets it, too.