NEW YORK (AP) – This one is about more than just the Ryan Bowl, Plaxico Burress’ return and Jason Garrett’s debut as the full-time coach of “America’s Team.”
With the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks as an emotional backdrop, coach Rex Ryan and the New York Jets are kicking off their season against Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys. And, it comes in front of a national television audience in a stadium just a few miles from the World Trade Center site, with ceremonies, songs and videos to honor first responders and victims.
There will also likely be some tears.
“I think it’ll definitely be emotional, to me and everybody that is there and probably people that are watching around the country,” Ryan said. “I would assume it’s going to be emotional for everybody. But in particular with this region, this area, when you talk about 2,753 people perishing in New York alone, I think it’s going to be very emotional for a lot of people.”
Ryan feels a strong responsibility to make sure his team goes out and wins at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night. Not just for the franchise and the fans, but for the people of the area.
“Guys will remember exactly where they were at the time of the tragedy,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “They’ll give thanks to the officers and rescue workers. We want to do all that, and respect that atmosphere and that process and all the ceremonial stuff. And at the same time, we want to play a good football game, and be focused and ready to play. So, that’s important as well.”
The Cowboys know emotions will play into this one on and off the field, and Garrett says that won’t just be limited to the Jets and their players.
“I don’t think in any way it was a regional event,” said Garrett, who was an assistant with the Giants on Sept. 11, 2001. “It was an international event. Obviously, it was like none other in our planet’s history, let alone our country’s history. I certainly feel like the responsibility that we have as members of the Dallas Cowboys to be at our best is no less than the responsibility that the Jets feel to be at their best.”
Ryan is motivated for another reason. He’s going up against his twin brother Rob, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator — with their ailing father Buddy, who’s battling cancer in his parotid gland (near the ear), expected to be in the crowd watching his sons.
“It’s always special when you play against Rex,” Rob Ryan said. “You talk about emotion — it’s hard to talk about me and my brother when it’s 9/11, so everybody’s got emotions on that one.”
Rex is 5-3 against his brother, going back to their college coaching days, and the Jets beat the Cleveland Browns and Rob’s defense last season. That matchup was highlighted by a wig-wearing Rex taking playful shots at his brother and Rob going right back at him.
This time around, the brothers have been easy on the jokes. Winning is serious business for the brothers with Rex having won a Super Bowl with Baltimore and taken New York to two consecutive AFC championship games, while Rob has won two rings as an assistant in New England.
As it is, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said Rob Ryan changed up the defense immediately after the Jets claimed former Cowboys safety Andrew Sandejo off waivers last week.
“I thought that was pretty interesting when I was watching the defensive side of the ball here this week,” Romo said. “I’ve never seen that before, so I think there is a little cat-and-mouse game there, for sure.”
Rob must whisper to his players about how badly he wants to beat his brother, though, right?
“You know, he doesn’t whisper at all,” Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “It’s a battle they have every year. May the best man win.”
Even without the emotions of playing on 9/11, this was going to be a special game for Burress. The Jets receiver will make his regular-season debut for his new team, nearly three years after he last played — back when he was with the Giants. That’s before he accidentally shot himself in the leg in a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008 and later served 20 months in prison on a gun charge.
“I kind of go over in my mind what it’s going to feel like, but I don’t even know,” Burress said. “When I get out there, whatever happens, if I shed a few tears or whatever, the world will see it.”
After the Jets signed him on July 31, Burress insisted he would again become one of the league’s elite receivers. That’s despite missing so much time away from the game and then easing into football again as he dealt with a sprained ankle early in training camp.
“I’m not really worried about catching the football,” he said. “That pretty much comes naturally. I’m just working on my fundamentals.”
The game also marks the first time in the regular season Garrett will coach the Cowboys without the interim tag. He went 5-3 after he replaced the fired Wade Phillips, and takes over a team that always has Super Bowl aspirations — much like the team Dallas is playing Sunday night.
“We don’t really worry too much about outside expectations,” Garrett said. “We worry more about what our expectations and our standards are inside our building. And it’s about how we go about meetings and walkthroughs and practicing and trying to get better each and every day and doing things the right way. And we believe if you do that, over time you’re going to get the results that you want.”
Garrett will also have Romo. The quarterback was lost after six games with a broken collarbone a year ago. Romo has looked good in the preseason, Garrett said, and is ready to get the season started.
“It feels like it’s been forever since I played in a regular-season game,” Romo said. “I’m just excited to be playing and excited to go out there and continue to get better, improve and just play football. I love the game. I love competing. It’s just going to be a great feeling.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)