Rex Ryan’s biggest problem when he and his brothers moved to Toronto with their mother as kids was figuring out how to ice skate.
Yep, there was a time when the New York Jets coach zipped across the ice on blades. Well, sort of.
“I never knew how to skate,” Ryan said with a grin. “Some would argue I still can’t skate. You have to play hockey or you weren’t going to play any sport, really, so I learned how to play hockey.”
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Ryan, whose parents were divorced, lived in Toronto with his twin brother Rob and older brother Jim from the ages of 3 until 15. That’s when their mother, Doris, decided they should move in with their father, Buddy, who was then a coach on the Minnesota Vikings‘ staff.
Rex Ryan is heading back to the city where he spent his formative years Thursday when the Jets take on the Buffalo Bills at the Rogers Centre.
“Toronto is a great town,” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day where the NFL would be playing a game in Toronto. I certainly never envisioned myself coaching a team that would be playing in Toronto. It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a great town, and, hopefully, we can convert some of those hockey fans to become New York Jets fans.”
It’s Buffalo’s second annual game in Toronto, where the Bills agreed to play five regular-season – one each year – and three preseason games through 2012.
“I think they’ll be wanting us to punt on third down,” Ryan said, referring to Canadian Football League rules. “The fact that there’s no 55-yard line, I think will be a new wrinkle for them, but you’d be surprised. There are a lot of NFL fans right there in that Toronto area. Obviously, you’ve got Buffalo right up the road.”
The game comes after the Jets (5-6) snapped a three-game skid with a 17-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It was New York’s second win in eight games, and kept its playoff hopes alive.
“I think it’s going to be great,” Ryan said of the trip. “I’m glad we’re doing it. We just want to win. We don’t care if it’s in Toronto, in Buffalo or right here. Makes no difference to us. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
A young Ryan was always into sports, and he quickly picked up hockey – after learning how to skate, of course.
“I always wanted to be out there on the ice,” he said. “That’s what was so weird about hockey, you kept shifting in and out. I was like ‘No, I’m going to play goalie because he’s out there all the time, plus he had the coolest equipment.’ So, that’s what I did.”
Ryan said his experience as a goalie, and also as a catcher in baseball, helped prepare him for some things later in life.
“I’m just used to having things thrown at me, obviously, as a coach,” he quipped. “I was a natural, but it was a lot of fun.”
Ryan was last in Toronto a few years ago, when one of his sons played in a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y. After the tournament was over, he and his family toured the city.
“Took them to Niagara Falls and then went to the CN Tower, and went to a Blue Jays game,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, we’ll leave after the game.’ My wife wasn’t that excited when the game went into 18 innings, but we can’t leave early. We’re going to be there all the way to the end. She wasn’t real fired up about it.”