Rookie Ryan Spadola a highlight for struggling Jets
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
Amid all the chaos that is the Jets these days -- from Rex Ryan's mishandling of Mark Sanchez's playing time Saturday night, to the coach's bizarre rambling in the postgame conference, to Geno Smith's botched performance in a big spot, to Mike Goodson's suspension -- at least there's something positive to come out of the preseason. At least there's Ryan Spadola.
While Ryan continued to dance away from questions Monday about his ill-fated decision to have Sanchez play in the fourth quarter, which led to his shoulder injury, Spadola has emerged as the feel-good story of camp. In the Jets-Giants game, the wide receiver accomplished something similar to what Victor Cruz did in the same spot three years ago and Wayne Chrebet before that.
A walk-on out of Lehigh, an FCS school where he had to pay his way, Spadola has created the kind of unlikely buzz seen from only a few undrafted free agents such as Cruz and Chrebet.
Ryan didn't make any news Tuesday and had the good sense not to answer quarterback questions backward or sideways, as he did Saturday. Although Spadola won't take the heat off Ryan, at least the kid gives Jets fans something to talk about besides the beleaguered coach and his misfit quarterbacks.
Nicknamed "Spicoli'' by Ryan -- a nod to the irascible character Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in the 1982 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High'' -- Spadola quietly has emerged as a partial solution to the Jets' thorny wide receiver issue. His performance against the Giants, which included a fourth-quarter touchdown on a post route and a 70-yard catch-and-run that led to the winning field goal in overtime, likely cemented a roster spot for the Jets' newest Jersey guy. Just like Chrebet before him.
The two exchanged emails last week, with Chrebet offering pointers. He made the Jets in 1996 out of Hofstra and had a terrific career before concussions forced his retirement after the 2005 season.
"He kind of wished me luck and gave me tips about going through the whole process,'' said Spadola, who grew up in Howell, in central Jersey. Chrebet was raised in Garfield, not far from MetLife Stadium.
"He said, 'Never sit back on anything you achieved and continue to work hard and push to better yourself.' ''
Spadola is doing that, taking advantage of every opportunity. And not just as a receiver. The 6-3, 200-pounder is heavily involved on special teams. "I'm trying to get as much added value to myself as possible,'' he said. "I'm really trying to embrace that role.''
He takes it all very seriously -- unlike the character he's nicknamed for. Spicoli was a wisecracking, marijuana-smoking surfer dude. Not Spadola.
"I see the resemblance -- blond hair and blue eyes,'' Spadola said. "I don't stand for what Spicoli stands for in the movie, but it is pretty funny.''
Look at it this way: If the coach has a nickname for you, and he shows video of your two big plays against the Giants, you're ahead of the game.
"I embrace the role as underdog,'' Spadola said. "That's the kind of role I've had through high school and college. I'm fortunate to be in a good situation here. You try to take advantage and capitalize on it.''
Spicoli . . . er, Spadola . . . has done that. And if he survives one more round of roster cuts, the dream comes true.
How would he celebrate?
"Pay off my student loans and help out my mom,'' he said.
Good stuff, Spicoli.