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Vilma was big influence on Rhodes

Perhaps the biggest influence on Kerry Rhodes early in his career was linebacker Jonathan Vilma. When they were together on the Jets it was Vilma who taught Rhodes how to break down film of opponents and study tendencies.

Vilma was traded to the Saints after the 2007 season. But now, if the Jets and the Saints win on Sunday, they’ll be facing each other in the Super Bowl.

“We’ve been talking about it,” Rhodes said. “Just talking about how funny it would be if we were both playing each other. I’ll get to see him. It’ll be fun.”

Vilma never quite adjusted to the 3-4 defense that Eric Mangini brought to the Jets and that Rex Ryan has taken to the playoffs. But in New Orleans, he’s returned to form.

“He’s back to the level that he was playing at in his past success and he’s liking it out there,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes isn’t the only Jets player to keep in touch with Vilma. Bryan Thomas said he’s remained close to him and they spoke last week, although that was more about Thomas wanting to see how he could help the efforts in Haiti (Vilma’s parents are both from Haiti and he has spearheaded relief efforts).

Thomas said he thinks Vilma will be excited to be in the Super Bowl. “And to play his former team, too? He probably would love to see that.”

But it is Rhodes who was Vilma’s closest friend on the Jets. And they remain close, talking on the phone once a week.

Will those conversations continue if there is a Jets-Saints Super Bowl?

“If we play against each other we won’t talk for that week,” Rhodes said. “We’ll be enemies that week. I’m sure if we’re down there at the same time we’ll probably get dinner or something. But we won’t talk like we do now.”

New York Sports