Fighting Ryan family stands united

IRVING, Texas -- The Ryan family has a bunch of fighters.

It started with Buddy, the dad and the founder of the 46 defense. He fought with coaches, players and sometimes entire organizations.

It continued with his twin sons, New York Jets head coach Rex and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob, who will meet again on a football field Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Rob and Rex fight all the time. They fight for their teams, for each other and sometimes against agents (there was that "Hard Knocks" scene last year where Rex voiced frustration at the agent of then-holdout Darrelle Revis).

During training camp, there was Rob fighting for players to sign with the Cowboys. He was on his cell late at night trying to convince safety Abram Elam to come to Dallas. He stood on the field at the Alamodome trying to tell cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to take the Cowboys' offer.

Fight is what the Ryans do.

Now there is a bigger fight, a fight they've won a few times before.

Dad has cancer again.

It's the fourth time he's had it, and when you talk to the Ryan brothers, and even to their dad, it doesn't seem as if they're worried.

"He's about the only guy who's beat cancer about every time," Rob said. "He's been through it about four or five times, so I'm sure the prognosis is great for him because he always wins."

Buddy, 77, is arriving in the New York area Friday to spend time with the family and watch some football before undergoing surgery in Lexington, Ky., for cancer that has spread from his glands to his neck.

"I'm going to be at the game and see my grandkids and I planned on staying longer," Buddy said. "But I got to take care of some things."

In the process, he'll watch Rob and Rex face each other again. Buddy ran off the names of schools and teams they've played and coached for.

"It's going to be great having him here," Rex said. "I know this is huge for him and he's looked forward to it for a long time."

It seems odd to see a Ryan with the Cowboys.

In 1987 when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles, Buddy upset Cowboys coach Tom Landry when it was thought he ran up the score. In 1989, Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas swore Ryan put out a $200 bounty on his head.

There was no love lost between the Cowboys and Ryan, who also coached division foe Arizona.

"Business is business," Buddy said. "Dallas gave him [Rob] a great job and he took it. That's the business."

The business picks up Sunday, when the Ryan twins will try to beat each other.

"We'll speak a little bit," Rex said, referring to his brother. "He wanted to upgrade his tickets. I think they're coming here for a vacation, it sounded like to me. But no, we'll get after each other, no question."

Rob poked fun at the foot-fetish photos and video purported to be of Rex's wife that hit the Internet last year just before the playoffs. Rob joked that his brother is a little freaky but he's worse.

Rex didn't want to talk about what his brother said, continuing his stance that it was a personal matter.

Rob has also teased Rex about his new calf tattoo, saying it "looked sweet, but I'm not getting one."

The two play golf together and talk about kids and work.

The Ryan boys are bonded by their father.

He's the man who taught them football. The man who taught them it's OK to have a little swagger.

"I'm confident in coaching football, but I'm not confident in singing and I'm not confident in English class or anything like that," Rob said. "But I'm for damn sure confident in stuff that I'm good at. I think we've just enough arrogance to be good at this job."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.