News

Print
RSS

Why Buffalo already loves Rex Ryan, and the feeling is mutual

Posted Jan 15, 2015

Between family ties to the region, a love for the AFL, and an inherent understanding of what makes this city tick, Rex Ryan made a splash upon his entrance in Buffalo.

There’s almost nothing that proud Buffalonians can get behind more than a compliment to their oft-misunderstood city – especially when it’s said on a national stage, from someone with a lot of clout, spoken with quite a bit of vigor.

As Rex Ryan was formally introduced as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday, he checked all of those boxes en route to endearing himself to the whole of Bills Nation in just under an hour.

“The Buffalo Bills represent this community of Buffalo,” he said in his opening remarks. “We’re going to be tough. We’re going to be as loyal to our fans as they are to us. We are going to earn that loyalty and that trust, and one thing you’re going to see, come September, this team will be ready, period. And that’s it.”

Rex’s enthusiasm for his new town, his new team, his new home, had a palpable pull on Bills fans, bringing them closer with each word.

But dramatics aside - and under the obvious pretense that Bills fans will wait for him to live up to those words for this union to work - how could a man who just two weeks ago was the head coach of a longstanding division rival have such immediate appeal in his new city on the opposite end of the state?

Well, this wasn’t Rex’s first trip to Buffalo, and no, we don’t mean on gamedays as head coach at the Jets. He developed an understanding for and appreciation of the city during his youth, when his father, Buddy Ryan, was coaching for the Jets and he and his brothers were living with their mother in Toronto.

“The thing I remember most was coming in when my dad was coaching with the Jets, and I was able to get to all the Buffalo Bill games when they would play, and how passionate those fans were, and it was just amazing,” said Rex. “And you always felt that, regardless of what the weather was like, or anything else, it was packed and those fans were so passionate about their team, and that’s another huge reason I am proud to be given this opportunity.”

He spent eight of the formative years of his youth just over the border in Canada before moving to Chicago with his father where he graduated from high school. Though he hadn’t quite learned what beers were on tap at the Big Tree quite yet (don’t worry, we’ll get there), it gave him a base that prepared him well for his splash of an introduction in Buffalo this week.

His ties date even farther beyond occasional visits during his time in nearby Toronto, when from 1961-65, his father was a defensive line coach at the University at Buffalo. Rex and his fraternal twin brother Rob, current defensive coordinator at the New Orleans Saints, were born during their dad’s time in Buffalo.

With five Super Bowl rings between Rex (one), Rob (two), and Buddy (two), the Ryan family has a rich family tradition in the sport, and with that comes an appreciation for the history of the sport itself.

“I followed the Buffalo Bills and I understand the history of the AFL, and the history of this franchise,” said Rex. “I see Billy Shaw[‘s photo] up here [in the Bills Fieldhouse], “lookie lookie, here comes Cookie,” all those type of things. [Jack] Kemp, the Electric Company, all of them. I can go over every guy that played.”

As the first head coach in Bills history hired after the passing of founding owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., it seems only fitting that Rex has such reverence for the AFL, a league Wilson was so integral in creating and one that so defines the tradition of his new team.

But of all the things Rex Ryan did and said in his first week with the Bills, there might be no truer sign to modern day Bills fans that he will – strike that, he has – fit in just fine than what he did on his first day in Buffalo.

Why, of course, Rex went to the legendary Bills alumni haunt within walking distance of Ralph Wilson Stadium with the most legendary Bills alumnus of them all, Jim Kelly.

“The beer was cold. I know the outside was too, but I almost feel like a part of it already,” said Rex.

“Everybody knows how passionate Buffalo Bills fans are,” said Kelly, among a dialogue filled with high praise for the new Bills coach. “People here work their tails off to buy season tickets. You listen to Rex and he rubs off like he’s one of us already. He wants to win, and he’s not going to be pushed around, and that’s what you want.

“And people in Buffalo, when anything negative is said about our community, we get mad, and when you start talking about people pushing you around, that’s when you step forward and do something about it. Rex is the type of coach that I feel we need.”

A Hollywood scriptwriter might not have called for this level of assimilation. What did Rex look like in Jets green and white? We can’t remember. Because as of this week, through all he did and said, he became one of us.