Mangold, Wilfork share mutual respect

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In all the years Jets center Nick Mangold has been face to face with Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, the most surreal came at a Pro Bowl game in Miami.

“Because of our numbers, our lockers were next to each other,” Mangold explained. “So we showed up to the stadium for the game and you had a Mangold and a Wilfork, same colored jerseys, right next to each other. It was very weird, I took a picture and still have it. You would never expect to see that.”

The Jets vs. the Patriots can be a contentious game, but not all Jets and Patriots players hate each other. On the contrary, to hear Mangold and Wilfork talk about each other, it almost sounds like they are auditioning to be each other’s agent.

“I think it’s mutual respect. He’s easily the best defensive tackle in the game,” Mangold said. "We’ve been playing each other now seven years — so that’s 14, plus two playoff games, 16 — so this is our 17th time playing each other. It’s a great competition.”

And up I-95 just a few hours earlier, Wilfork had some similarly complementary things to say about the man he will be nose-to-nose with for much of the afternoon.

"He's probably the best. He's probably the best center, I believe," Wilfork told ESPNBoston.com. "I've been saying this ever since the guy's been a rookie. He's been pretty steady for them. And it hasn't changed."

Can’t Antonio Cromartie get in on this? His colorful descriptions of Tom Brady have added a layer of animosity to the matchup, and all this love between Mangold and Wilfork is a little bit of a snoozefest in comparison.

“It’s fun as a competitor going against the best,” Mangold said. “I think that’s where my respect level comes in. I know it’s going to be a great battle. I know he’s won some, I’ve won some and there’ve probably been a couple draws.”