Much ado has been made this week about Rex Ryan’s statements that he would have "had a couple rings" had he received the coaching job for the San Diego Chargers that would eventually go to Norv Turner in 2007. Norv Turner shot back at Ryan, claiming that those couple of rings should go well “with the ones he’s guaranteed the last couple of years."
With the Jets’ come-from-behind 27-21 victory against the Chargers this past Sunday, one might propose a theory that that a difference-maker for the Jets was the instilled confidence, bravado and leadership that Ryan brings to the organization, along with it the claims that not only are the Jets a Super Bowl contender, but that with Ryan at the helm, they could win many championships.
What differentiates guarantees from individuals such as Rex Ryan, LeBron James and others in the year 2011 from classic guarantees made by players such as Joe Namath and Plaxico Burress in the past is how bold they are in scope and advanced they are chronologically.
While Namath and Burress guaranteed titles days before their respective teams prepared for a title shot, individuals like Ryan and James have put it all on the line, saying they will be winners from day one, and never straying from that goal.
Although early titles have been called before by coaches such as Pat Riley and players such as Jason Terry, to make a similar claim year after year, or to predict a large number of championships is truly a phenomenon of modern sports.
Let’s look at some elements that have contributed to this phenomena.
Eric Mangini coached the New York Jets for three seasons before being fired after a 2008 season in which the team lost four out of five games, and missed the playoffs after an 8-3 start.
Rex Ryan was brought in to coach the following year, and although Mangini’s last year and Ryan’s first year brought about the same record, Ryan led the Jets to an AFC Championship game, and would do so again one season later.
Now, how much of that is luck, roster changes and various other elements is subject to scrutiny, and no sole factor to the Jets single season turnaround outshines the rest. That being said, some facts cannot be denied; Rex Ryan believed that the Jets could beat anybody, said it at every opportunity, guaranteed a championship and continues to do so to this day.
Rex has an attitude that Mangini could never sell to a defeated New York fan base. A guarantee energized the fans, and if you didn't think the players fed off of that energy, you'd be wrong.
Within a span of a year, the Jets went from “just-end-the-season” to one of the most lauded teams in New York. If it worked for the Jets, does it seem so crazy for a man like Dan Gilbert to guarantee a title, or for Rex Grossman to guarantee a division?
Teams that have a culture of weakness can thrive on big title aspirations, and the idea of winning it all never seems quite half-baked to a sports fan, at least until the fat lady sings.
I want you to envision this scenario. The big game is on the line, and with one pass, one swing of the bat or a three-pointer, the game belongs to your team. But they fail, and with it, all the hopes of a championship dashed. I bet your first thought was something along the lines of:
“Oh *&%$! (My team) lost! What a bunch of bums!”
I can guarantee you that this thought did not pop into your head;
“Oh *&%$! (My team) lost! How could this happen? (Coach/Player) guaranteed a title!”
That’s right. Losing stinks, but, as the information age brings us a wealth of sports media and insight, the pangs of defeat are healed well by the introspection, analysis and opinions provided by a non-stop media machine.
Even seconds after a season’s over, many a fan are simply relieved to sit back, and be done with it, the trials and tribulations of another story overtaking what difficulty we had processing the loss of a favorite team.
Did a strong team like the Texas Rangers lose the World Series? Well, they have a bright future and better days ahead. Did a weaker team, like the Rams of last year, narrowly miss the playoffs after a guarantee? Well, they showed fight, and promise, and they have a bright future and better days ahead also.
The Rangers and Rams are showing drastically different outcomes this season, the Rangers making their second consecutive World Series appearance, and the Rams dwelling in their division cellar, but since when has the media, a professional athlete or anyone except the most devoted sports fan brought up the fact that a team that guaranteed they would be good a season ago has slid drastically in the standings? It doesn't happen as often as you think.
When the Miami Heat held their welcoming party last year in July of 2010, LeBron James guaranteed “...not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven...” championships, as well as stating the games would be “easy” compared to the team’s practice sessions, the sports world was turned on its collective ear. The Heat had arrived.
Jeff Van Gundy ascertained that, among other impressive feats, the Heat would break virtually every team-related record in an NBA season, among them, the 33-game win streak held by the 1971-72 Lakers, and the single season win record of 72 games, held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
Although the Miami Heat wound up losing the NBA Finals to a well balanced Dallas Mavericks team, they were the NBA Finals. That is, they created the image that the title was theirs to lose, not an opponents to win.
This does not begin to cover the fact that the Heat had defense and consistency issues, gave too many fouls, were not great on field goals (ranked 19th), awful on offensive rebounds (27th) and poor in assists and steals (26th).
In fact, show the 2010-2011 Miami Heat numbers to a seasoned statistician, and he might presume the Heat were a one-and-done playoff team, not an NBA Finals contender.
When teams played against the Heat, they targeted the “big three” showboat image of the Heat, and some, like the Chicago Bulls, let the hype get to them. A hype generated by a guarantee which lives to this season, as many believe the title still goes through South Beach.
I am a New York Giants fan. When they had a rocky start to the 2007 season, I still picked them as my team to win the Super Bowl, and continued to predict a New York Giants victory, even claiming they would defeat the New England Patriots 21-14 in the Super Bowl (and no, I did not bet on the game).
Well, history had its way, and by the end of the season, I looked like a genius. Was I? Certainly not, I was a fool who got lucky. But my relatives, my friends and my co-workers, at least for a week or two, were in the presence of an NFL demigod. The man who knew the Giants would, against all odds, pull off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
I know something else as well; this has happened to all of you reading this article. You have all made the guarantee, whether it be a Super Bowl championship, a fantasy diamond in the rough or “this guy’s due”, you have all made a promise, seen the payoff and reveled in the spoils, however brief.
So when Rex Ryan opens his yapper, when LeBron James rattles off titles like the Count on Sesame Street and Jason Terry gets a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien trophy on his arm, don’t be outraged. After all, a guarantee is fleeting. A championship is forever.