The pro football season can't start soon enough. Here in New England, we can't wait for Week 2 when the Patriots play the Jets at the new football theatre off exit 16W in the Meadowlands.
The Patriots and their fans hate the Jets with the proverbial power of 10,000 suns. It's Red Sox-Yankees with tailgates and goal posts.
Tom Brady came out and admitted it last week. Brady was on a Boston sports radio station when he was asked if he had been watching HBO's Hard Knocks featuring the Jets. Brady said no. And then added, "I hate the Jets.''
It was very un-Patriot like. In this century, while the Patriots were going to four Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, winning three times, New England routinely took the high road. There were never inflammatory comments originating in Foxboro. The Pats let their opponents yap, then shut them up on Sunday. New England was good enough to be aloof.
No more. Now the Pats are just another team and the Jets are the muscle-flexing loudmouths who shot past New England and played in the AFC Championship Game last year. The Jets are the trendy pick, not just to win the AFC East, but to get to the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan has assembled a killer defense and there seems to be some hope that Mark Sanchez will improve in his second year in the league. Big names like Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie have been added to an already strong cast. The Jets are good and they are cocky and they have a new Stadium and a hit television show.
And the Patriots hate them.
There's great history here. The Pats and Jets slugged it out in the early years of the AFL back in the 1960s. In those days it was Babe Parilli slinging the football against Joe Willie Namath. The Jets were first to win a Super Bowl when Namath made good on his "guarantee" against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami.
Things got really hot between the Jets and Patriots after Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans (1997) when Bill Parcells bolted to the Jets hours after New England lost the Super Bowl. New England blocked the move and the commissioner had to get involved. Parcells eventually got to coach the Jets and New York crushed the Pete Carroll era in New England by stealing Curtis Martin from the Patriots. When Carroll was eventually fired, New England owner Bob Kraft wanted Belichick to coach in New England -- but Belichick was (supposedly) committed to following Parcells with the Jets.
When Belichick suddenly resigned as "HC of the NYJ" there was another wrestling match between the two teams and Jets executive Steve Gutman questioned Belichick's mental health.
It was "Game On" after that. The rivalry and the hatred grew.
There were a lot of hard feelings when Belichick assistant Eric Mangini left New England to coach the Jets. The Patriots forever will believe Mangini ratted out Belichick in the Spygate episode. The Pats wound up losing a first-round draft pick, $750,000 and a great deal of their reputation. They still blame the Jets.
Belichick won't get into a war of words with Ryan. He'll never detest Ryan the way he hated Mangini. He just smirks and says that the Patriots always want to beat their division rivals. But you know it ticks him off when he hears Ryan talking about "not kissing Belichick's rings" and talking Super Bowl after one season in New York.
The Pats split with the Jets last year. They lost, 16-9, in New Jersey and Brady didn't do much against the Jets. Now he's on record saying he hates the Jets and the Patriots can't wait for their chance to shut up the brash bunch from the Meadowlands. Randy Moss, for one, is pretty tired of hearing about how he gets shut down by Jets corner Darrelle Revis (Revis is still a holdout, but he'll be back by the time the games start).
New England opens its season at home against Cincinnati. The Jets play the Ravens on Monday Night in Week 1. Those are both big games, but Week 2 is the one the fans are thinking about. Belichick says he hasn't been watching Hard Knocks but something tells me he'll have someone gather data from the show in the event there's something he can use to beat the Jets.
"It's part of the excitement of games,'' said Jets center Nick Mangold. "You dislike the other team.''
It's more than that when it comes to Patriots-Jets. It's pure hated. And it makes us wish the NFL season started tonight.