Just when you thought the menacing Dolphins-Jets rivalry was getting as tame as tourist-trap Times Square, bad blood is simmering again.
Rex Ryan never fails to provide “hot sauce,” and the Dolphins never fail to eat it up and spit it out.
Sure, it’s silly to see grown men hurling insults like they are back on the playground:
“You better say you’re sorry,” threatens one.
“Oh, yeah, make me,” replies the other.
“I’ll kick your shins!”
“And I’ll egg your house!”
Not that professional athletes need extra motivation to get riled up like snorting bulls, right?
The eternally entertaining hatefest remains relevant even though both franchises have been on the wane. Thanks to the jumbled nature of the AFC East and much of the league, the 3-3 Dolphins and 3-4 Jets are actually in the playoff hunt. A 9-7 record could do it. The Patriots’ Tom Brady is looking mortal. Plenty of power teams are vulnerable. This could be a reversal-of-fortune season for the Dolphins if they seize the opportunity.
Sunday’s road game presents a juncture. The Jets are without two of their best players, Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes. Their quarterback situation is the mess it was predicted to be. Not only is Tim Tebow ranked the Most Overrated Quarterback in the NFL in a SI.com players poll, but Mark Sanchez is ranked second (tied with Tony Romo).
Tebow has been a mostly useless sideshow (two passes, 25 touches in seven games) except to unnerve Sanchez and agitate dissatisfied fans. Tony Sparano gets testy when asked why he hasn’t called more plays for Tebow. Sanchez, in his fourth season, is still a second-tier quarterback who doesn’t have a lot to work with on offense.
The Dolphins and much-maligned Jeff Ireland seem to have found an answer after years wandering the quarterback desert. Rookie Ryan Tannehill isn’t as spectacular as Robert Griffin III or as prototypical as Andrew Luck but he is, so far, the steal of the 2012 draft. Even Ryan praised Tannehill’s accuracy and poise under pressure.
The Dolphins need to run against the Jets’ 30th-ranked rushing defense Sunday, which is exactly what Bush was doing effectively in the first meeting, a 23-20 Jets overtime victory. Then he was knocked out of the game when Jets defensive back LaRon Landry slammed his helmet into Bush’s knee. Bush believed it was a calculated hit because earlier in the week Ryan had said the Jets were planning to apply “hot sauce” to Bush.
Bush shot back, linking Revis’ season-ending torn ACL injury in that game to karma.
“What goes around comes around,” he said. “It’s sad it happened like that, but I’m going to be back.”
On Wednesday, the sniping began anew when Ryan told New York reporters: “Shoot, I apologized for my comments. I expect [Bush] to do the same,” adding that he originally meant Bush warranted extra attention and “We never want to hurt a player.” He later told Miami reporters that he didn’t really expect Bush to apologize.
Bush said it was too late for Ryan to revise his “hot sauce” comments.
“I don’t believe that,” Bush said. “They’re the ones that started it. If there was any retaliation, it would come from us. But with this team, the caliber of guys and character of guys we have, we play with respect for the game.
“The good thing about divisional opponents is you get to play them twice.”
Landry hissed, “Every time [Bush] sees me, he’ll remember that hit.”
Linebacker Aaron Maybin told ESPN New York that the Jets want to sideline Bush, modulating the threat by adding, “but we’re out to do it legally.”
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey responded with a putdown of Maybin, who has tallied exactly one tackle this season: “He’s done nothing in this league to even open his mouth. He’s a joke. If he’s in there I’ll have to be on punt-block or something to say something to him.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be watching.
Locker room bulletin boards will be plastered with material.
Fans in clan colors will be belligerent (even if they are wearing wigs).
Who says Dolphins-Jets ain’t what it used to be? Talk to any flight attendant who is a veteran on the MIA-LaGuardia route: It’s crowded, chaotic, hostile. It’s Heat-Knicks from the bad old days. It’s South Beach vs. Broadway. It’s our arroz con pollo vs. your bagels. It’s our corruption vs. your corruption (OK, Miami wins, hands down). It’s two cities that never sleep competing through their teams. It’s the essence of football.