FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
With the season on the brink and most people outside the steel and glass walls of the Jets' training complex writing them off, Rex Ryan goes back to the famous quote that has sustained him so often in his life when things aren't going well.
"Sugar Ray Robinson always comes up," Ryan said Thursday afternoon outside the Jets' field house shortly before practice. "It's ingrained in me now."
It's the quote made famous by Robinson, the former welterweight and middleweight champion considered by many to be the greatest fighter of all time. The words continue to inspire the Jets coach, especially with his team 3-5 and owning a razor-thin margin of error.
"I always go back to when I was a kid, when Ray Robinson said, 'To be a champion, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.' I understand with this 3-5 record that the odds are long, but we still believe in ourselves."
It was therefore no surprise that Ryan liked what he heard earlier in the day from his outspoken cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, who essentially guaranteed during an interview on the NFL Network that the Jets would make the playoffs. He didn't use the "g" word, but he didn't have to. His words were self explanatory. "The Jets will make the playoffs this year," he said. "We believe in each other, we believe in what coach Ryan and his staff is putting us into schemes and stuff, so we definitely are going to make the playoffs this year."
The more muted Ryan hasn't made this kind of bold prediction this year, mostly because he realized that his frequent guarantees last year put too much pressure on his players because they tended to unnecessarily rile up opponents. But you got the sense that Cromartie's comments lifted Ryan's spirits. "I'm out of the guarantee business, 'cause we know how that worked out," Ryan quipped.
But when I pointed out to Ryan that Cromartie had basically issued a guarantee and that Ryan was agreeing with it, wasn't that by extension his own guarantee? "No, I'm not guaranteeing anything," he said.
And then he did. Sort of.
"What Cro was saying was what you want your team to know, that, 'Hey, look guys, we're going to make the playoffs.' We feel in our heart of hearts that we will make the playoffs," Ryan said. "Do we know how difficult the task is? We know it's not easy. We put ourselves in a huge hole at 3-5, but at the end of the day, right now, we have half our season in front of us."
He said there is a positive vibe in the locker room that belies the record and speaks to an unbridled sense of optimism, even at a time when things are going so poorly on both sides of the ball.
"I feel the energy in our building," he said. "This is how we think. We have a winner's mentality, not a loser's mentality. We don't have losers on this team. We're not perfect. We're 3-5 and we understand that. But there's no losers on this football team. We feel like we can win."
Ryan knows others will scoff; in fact, he invites them to do just that. After all, plenty of people love to call out the bully -- and Ryan has played that role so well and so often before. But Ryan thinks back to Sugar Ray and thumbs his nose at his critics.
"We know there's doubters, but we believe we can get it done," Ryan said. "It doesn't matter with the skeptics. If we get criticized for it, so what? We are about winning. We're not going to let somebody outside of our building set our agenda. Whatever it takes, we're going to line up and try to do that. That's who we are. We expect to win and we expect to be in the playoffs. The fact that we have half the season remaining gives us that opportunity."
Ryan may end up just whistling in the wind here, especially with a game on Sunday in Seattle, where the Seahawks are 4-0. But on the off chance that the Jets do pull off the unexpected and get to the playoffs, Ryan knows it will happen only with a positive attitude.
"You will never take the fight out of me," Ryan said. "Until you say we're out, we're going to keep fighting."
That much, the Jets coach will guarantee.