By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - It could prove to be a perfect match should tough-talking coach Rex Ryan deliver on his promise of a return to football glory for a New York Jets team whose history was founded on a Super Bowl guarantee made good.
Second-year coach Ryan has made life fun for Jets players and fans by creating a cocky, carefree atmosphere, though recent cracks in the masterplan threatened to disturb the dream.
In his first season in charge of the Jets, Ryan thumbed his nose at the regal New England Patriots, traded fighting words with an opposing player, showed the finger to rowdy fans and took the Jets within 30 gridiron minutes of a Super Bowl before relinquishing a first-half lead to the Indianapolis Colts.
Those incidents endeared the roly-poly Ryan -- now down a bit from his previous 338 pounds (153 kg) after gastric-band surgery -- to most of the Jets Nation.
This season has already brought a league probe into reports of a 'frat house' mentality that prompted a Mexican television reporter to say she was made to feel uncomfortable, and a drunken driving charge against receiver Braylon Edwards who tested at twice the legal alcohol limit when stopped at 5.30 a.m.
Reaction to the incidents was harsh and, after the Jets were flagged for 14 penalties in an opening loss to the Ravens, critics berated the team for a lack of discipline.
"I'm tired of the embarrassment to our owner," Ryan, 47, said he told a team meeting. "I feel it's an embarrassment to our owner and this organization.
"We don't need to be that team. This team works too hard to be looked at in this light. Yes, we have a great time. We have a lot of fun. (But) this football works and we compete and we study. We do everything it takes to win."
The Jets responded on Sunday with a 31-23 road win against the Dolphins in Miami that lifted their record to 2-1 and put them into a tie for first place in the AFC East.
An NFL master of defense who champions an attacking style and exudes absolute confidence in his players, Ryan aims to end 40 years of frustration for the franchise and write his name alongside "Broadway" Joe Namath.
In 1969, charismatic quarterback Namath promised that the 18-point underdog Jets of the old American Football League would beat NFL powerhouse Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
They did, but the Jets are still waiting for championship number two.
"Soon to be Champs" wrote Ryan under his signature on an ESPN bus after an interview for the network's "Hard Knocks" reality television show that chronicled the Jets' 2010 training camp.
Ryan can trace his bloodlines directly to that distant Super Bowl triumph as his father Buddy Ryan was a defensive coach for those Jets, who proved that teams of the upstart AFL could compete with the Packers, Colts and Giants of the established league into which they would merge one year later.
Ryan inherited from his father a fascination with ferocious defense and an impulsive nature.
Papa Ryan was also feisty, typified by a sidelines incident when he was defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers.
Rex does not back off from confrontation either.
When Miami linebacker Channing Crowder chided Ryan last year for preseason bravado, the coach said if he were younger, "I'd probably handle him myself." Crowder responded: "What's wrong with him? I'd have beat the hell out of that big, old joker."
Jets players shrug off suggestions that Ryan's big talk and high expectations make them targets.
"It doesn't matter if you have a target on your back or you don't," tight end Dustin Keller told Reuters. "This is the NFL. You're going to get a guy's best game every time. He doesn't care if you've been saying this or that.
"If you think you're the best, why don't you say it? These guys truly believe that we're the best."
(Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)