Rex Ryan has accumulated so many fond memories in six years: His first victory. The two playoff runs. His four postseason wins, especially the shocking upset at New England. The locker-room celebration last December in Miami.
And Sunday evening in Nashville.
After the game, the New York Jets' coach was presented the game ball by his players. An ugly win against a 2-12 team usually doesn't warrant a gesture of that magnitude, but this hasn't been an ordinary season. The Jets were eliminated before Thanksgiving and Ryan probably will be fired in two weeks. So welcome to the Rex Farewell Tour.
Minutes after he was handed the game ball by D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Ryan exited the locker room and completed the feel-good, double-hand off, giving it to his wheelchair-bound father, Buddy, who watched the game in a suite with other family members. It was a wonderful version of Tennessee schmaltz.
"Aw, shoot, that was great, it's always great to get a game ball," Rex Ryan said Monday. "It was a little extra motivation with my dad being in the stadium and able to watch a game. He hasn't been able to do that this year. That felt really good. It felt better to give him the ball."
The plan was to bring Buddy to the locker room immediately after the game, but he didn't make it down in time because there was a line at the stadium elevator. When he arrived, he waited in a hallway outside the locker room for his son, who was busy answering questions from reporters on whether the Jets might have been better off losing to improve their draft position. Ryan wasn't thinking about a 21-year-old quarterback from Oregon; his mind was on the 83-year-old man outside the locker room, the man who taught him the family business.
"Rex gave him the ball and dad looked at it, and in typical Buddy fashion, he said, 'I've got a lot of these,'" Rex's older brother, Jim, said Monday by phone. "But you could tell, it was special to him. He's pretty unemotional -- it's hard for dad to show emotion -- but you could see it in his eyes."
Buddy Ryan is one of the greatest defensive minds in history, the mad scientist who gave life to the famed '85 Bears. These days are a struggle for him. He has endured several bouts of cancer, strokes and Encephalitis. Rex said it's hard to see his father in this condition, but "he keeps trucking along," Buddy being Buddy.
"He's had some tough battles lately, but it was great to put a smile on his face," Rex said. "Unfortunately, dad doesn't hear real well, so it's hard to communicate with him. It's obviously a little better when you're face to face, so that's been a frustrating thing. But I can say this: He follows us like crazy."
Buddy lives on a horse farm in Kentucky and was driven to Nashville for the game. It became a family weekend. Rex's wife, Micki, came in from New Jersey and Jim flew in from St. Louis. Rex and Micki have a home in the Nashville area, so it was the perfect weekend. On Saturday, they celebrated Rex's 52nd birthday. The house, where Rex and Micki plan to retire, is decorated with multi-colored Christmas lights. Rex said he'd change the lights to green and white if they beat the Titans.
After the 16-11 win, Ryan mentioned "green light bulbs" in his post-game speech to the team -- a reference to his Christmas decorations. The Jets almost blew it in the end, but they held on for the emotional, if not artistic win. They don't play well all the time, but they still play hard for Ryan. He has a strong bond with his players.
"I don't want to see him go anywhere," tackle Breno Giacomini said. "We all know this is a business, but I'm going to do what I can and go out there and fight for my head coach."