Bird Flap Latest Sign of Rex Ryan's Popularity

Coach has become one of NFL's biggest personalities

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    David M. Hildenbrand

    Rex Ryan shouldn't be flipping the bird to crowds of people in public. If he's going to go to an MMA event in South Florida and do an interview over the PA system informing the crowd of his plans to beat the Dolphins twice next season, he's got to expect some negative reaction. Whether there are taunts about his team, jokes about his weight or suggestions about things he could do to his mother, Ryan has to grin and bear it.

    The alternative is the firestorm that he's created with pictures of him and his extended digit on kitchen tables Monday morning. Ryan was playing the role of villain on Saturday night, something familiar to anyone who has seen an episode of Monday Night Raw. He gave that crowd exactly what it wanted on Saturday night and you can be sure that there wasn't a soul offended by the gesture in the building. What plays in the cage doesn't play so well to the mass audience, however, which is why he needs to avoid doing it again. The Jets, with tickets to sell, had to chastise him, Ryan had to apologize and the NFL had to say it would investigate the incident.

    There's no Warren Commission needed to know that Ryan will get fined. He'll probably owe more than the $5,000 Colts safety Melvin Bullitt had to pay for smacking Mark Sanchez well after Sanchez handed the ball off, an interesting statement about the NFL's priorities, but his popularity won't take a significant hit.

    Ryan's star has risen beyond anyone's wildest dreams in his first year as Jets coach because the football watching public has discovered a taste for his unfiltered style. It can be bombastic, cocky, aggravating and a million other adjectives, but it always feels real. And "real" is in very short supply in the NFL these days, but it seems that people still enjoy something other than the antiseptic product the league prefers. They may love him or they may hate him, but they want to watch him. The NFL knows that which is why another result of their investigation will be a prime-time Jets-Dolphins game next season.

    Take the interview Peyton Manning and Drew Brees gave during halftime of Sunday's Pro Bowl. Manning complimented everything about Brees including his recipe for red beans and rice. Brees returned the favor and then waxed rhapsodic about Peyton's singing voice. Neither man interrupted the lovefest to express the slightest bit of interest in winning the Super Bowl, a game they presumably want to win. 

    That helps explain why the biggest football story of the week leading up to the big game has to do with a coach for a team that lost quite a while ago. Manning and Brees played the typical fluff-heavy, uninteresting game that sports have been cramming down our throats for years. Ryan doesn't play that game, which is why he's a bigger star than just about every player in the league so early in his career on the league's main stage.  

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.