For the past 30 years, Rex Ryan has left for training camp the same way. He pulls out of the driveway, rolls down his window and waves to his wife Michelle, repeating their traditional refrain: "Goodbye, my dear. Football is here."
This year, football would have to wait a few more minutes. Rex had absentmindedly rolled down the passenger window as well, causing the GoPro mounted on it to become lodged between the glass and the inside of the door. Rob Ryan, who was riding shotgun, noticed the suction cup from the camera was stuck, preventing the window from rolling back up.
Laughing, Rex pulled over his custom-painted Bills truck about two houses away from his driveway, and the brothers assessed the situation.
"Oh, boy, what's going on?" Rex asked.
"I think it hit the child proof...thing."
Together, while cracking up, they managed to dislodge the mounting device, roll up the window, and reaffix the camera.
"There you go. That looks good!" Rob exclaimed with a guffaw.
"I don't know. Should we have them look at it?"
I was one of "them," along with videographer Travis Carlson, riding in the backseat of the truck. It was day two of shooting with the Ryan brothers, and when I first heard Rob say the GoPro was stuck, I admit I was nervous. The last thing you want to do when it's your job to embed in someone's life with a camera is get in their way. This was going to be Rex and Rob's first training camp together since they coached for their late father Buddy Ryan with the Arizona Cardinals back in 1995. Now, just a month after Buddy's passing, our camera equipment was delaying their coaching reunion.
Luckily, I soon learned, the Ryans' jovial image isn't an act. They relish opportunities to laugh, particularly with and at each other. And although they may take a lighthearted approach to life, they're serious about the Buffalo Bills.
Outside linebackers coach Jeff Weeks was a football teammate of Rex and Rob at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. "The most disappointed guy last year about not going to the playoffs was Rex Ryan," he told us after practice one sweltering afternoon. "Trust me."
I didn't need to take anyone's word for it; after three weeks of observing Rex during practices, meetings, film studies, meals and downtime, his commitment to winning was unmistakable. The Ryans have five Super Bowl rings between the three of them, but Rex wants to be the first to win one as a head coach. And he genuinely believes his best chance to do it is with his twin brother at his side.
I stood just off stage right as Rex delivered his opening message to the team a day after our drive to St. John Fisher College. As a former NFL Films producer, I've heard almost as many coaches' speeches as the players themselves, from Marty Schottenheimer's "There's a gleam" to Lou Saban's "You gotta get it done!"
This one had slightly more profanity than average, but man, did it give me chills. Rex's passion was palpable. It remains to be seen if his repeated demands for "massive success" will come to fruition on the field, but the team was quite visibly buying in.
Rex and Rob may make for "good TV" in September, but what Bills fans want is to watch their team playing in February. Hopefully after getting an in-depth picture of the Ryans as men and coaches, Buffalo's faithful will feel confident in that possibility—and have a few laughs of their own along the way.