By Kristian Dyer
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Talk to the Giants and the Jets and they don't view this Saturday's game against each other as a true rivalry. It is just another game, they say with straight faces.
The Giants will point to games against divisional rivals in Dallas and Philadelphia as far more hateful. New England and Miami mean more to the Jets than the game against their supposed crosstown rivals. Outside of the playoff implications on the line and the natural desire of both teams to win, the bragging rights issue means more to the fans than the players. It's just the reality of the situation.
But, it shouldn't be an issue as the battle for the hearts and minds of New York has already been fought. It is a battle and not a war but the Jets are winning this one right now.
It has traditionally been a city that, in terms of football following, has always leaned heavily towards the Giants. With a rich tradition, far more success and a season ticket waiting list that at one point notoriously stretched for two decades, New York City has been painted "Big Blue" for the longest of times. Now, suddenly, the Jets are doing their best to turn it green.
This isn't the "little brother" Jets as their head coach Rex Ryan refers to them. It is a team with swagger, with purpose and a lot of fight. The success this year for sure has been a disappointment for the 8-6 Jets, but this team under Ryan and an owner in Woody Johnson will not sit around idly and play second fiddle to anyone, including the Giants.
They might not win a lot of games – the Jets have made the playoffs just six times since 2000 and are currently 60 games under .500 as a franchise – but their "come out swinging" style is winning over fans.
They have built a team of stars who sometimes double up as loose cannons. These Jets are quotable and charming to fans; from Santonio Holmes celebrating his contract in August by posting a shirtless photo of himself on Twitter chugging a bottle of Cristal or Bart Scott's infamous "Can't wait!" tirade following a playoff win in New England, the Jets entertain as well as they play. Even the foibles of their head coach create the sort of pathos that marks great Greek drama, a hero with flaws and faults who is yet still endearing.
Stacked against the stiff as cardboard and dry as Styrofoam Giants with their rather mundane quarterback and prickly head coach, it is no wonder that cameras flock to the Jets for sound bites on a week like this.
Consider head coach Tom Coughlin's response to a question about the rivalry between two teams on Saturday that not only share the city but play in the same stadium.
"Just try to win the game, that is what is important to me. Us winning the game, and it will be one of those knock-down, drag-out games without a doubt," Coughlin said. "Our focus is completely on preparing our team."
Then there's Ryan's mentality, which basically amounts to throwing down the gloves.
"I want to be the better team. There's no question about it and when you look at it the first two years. I love the deal, where this is going to dismiss that. Why would you dismiss it? Facts are facts. I've only been here three years now. So, I've mentioned from the whole time since I got here that I want to be the best team and expect to be the best team for the next 10 years," Ryan said.
"I recognize the rich tradition of Giants football. There's no question. And I'm not trying to take a run at the Giants or a shot at the Giants. I want to be the best team in the National Football League, and the fact that we share the same stadium, the same state, both New York teams. I don't want to be the one that is not looked at as the best team in my own state. There's no way. I want to be the best team, period. Now, do I have the courage to say it? Absolutely."
Tell us how you really feel, Rex.
And that right there, in 176 words from Ryan, is why the Jets are poised to not only catch-up to the Giants but perhaps even surpass them in taking over New York City. In a sport where winning counts for something, so to does personality and bravado, things which the Jets are certainly in no short supply of.
No matter what the scoreboard may say on Saturday afternoon at the game's final whistle, the battle for the city will continue to be waged – and no doubt Ryan will have plenty to say about it for years to come.
Kristian R. Dyer contributes to WFAN.com and covers the Jets beat for Metro New York. He also writes for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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