Jets ready for next meeting with 'Evil Empire'
A Boston Red Sox cap hangs in Calvin Pace's locker, a curious accessory for a guy who seriously dislikes his team's next opponent: the New England Patriots.
Don't worry Jets fans, he's no traitor.
''When it comes to baseball, I like certain players, and with the Red Sox, I like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez,'' the New York linebacker said with a big smile Friday. ''I'm not a Red Sox fan. So, for anybody who's reading or happens to see me out with the Red Sox hat on, I'm not a fan of the team. I'm a fan of certain players. So, I get a hat for the guys I like.''
Just as he did for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. He also owns a Mets cap, and thinks they should re-sign shortstop Jose Reyes.
''I'm a bandwagon fan when it comes to certain sports,'' Pace said, laughing. ''I'm not going to lie. I am.''
Pace has a Yankees cap, too, and a fool-proof plan for the Bronx Bombers to win their 28th World Series title next year.
''The Yankees should sign Albert Pujols and put him at third base,'' Pace said. ''People have been killing A-Rod, so you put Pujols at third, Alex Rodriguez at DH and then you have Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter? Man. You know the Yankees would spend the money.''
Which is why Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino once called the Yankees ''the Evil Empire,'' a label Pace used Friday to describe the Patriots. Not that New England has outspent its opponents. The Patriots are just not looked upon too favorably in these parts, mostly because of all the winning they've done.
This is one of the NFL's most intense rivalries and the next round will play out Sunday night when the Jets (5-3) host the Patriots (5-3) in a showdown for first place in the AFC East.
''It ought to be a great game,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ''It's almost like Ali-Frazier.''
They've been so evenly matched through the years, the teams are tied 52-52-1 in their series heading into this game.
''I'm sure this will be a great atmosphere down there,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ''I'm looking forward to it: big division game on the road, teams that know each other well. This will be a good football game. I think everybody's looking forward to it.''
Ryan is a big boxing fan and has brought up classic bouts before big games such as this one.
''Those were great fights,'' Ryan said of the Ali-Frazier bouts. ''I remember that growing up and things, so hopefully this can be that kind of game and hopefully we'll end up on top. Whether we're Ali or Frazier, I don't know.''
Lately, the Jets and Patriots have fought to a draw, with each winning three of the last six meetings - although one of New York's victories came in the playoffs last January.
''The only one that was horrible was that Monday night massacre where we got knocked out in the first round,'' said Ryan, referring to New England's 45-3 victory last season. ''But usually you have two good teams going at it.''
Not only that, but a pair of teams with lots of history. The Jets and Patriots are two of the original AFL franchises, but many of the current bad feelings started in 1997 when Bill Parcells left New England after a loss in the Super Bowl to become the Jets coach. Running back Curtis Martin followed Parcells a year later and became one of the best players in Jets history and a possible Hall of Famer.
Then, there was that bizarre day in 1999, when Belichick was all set to replace Parcells as Jets coach. Instead, he bailed after one day as the ''H.C. of the N.Y.J.'' and became the coach of the Patriots.
''At that point in time, that situation, I did what I felt like I needed to do and I don't have any regrets about that,'' Belichick said Friday. ''Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently or whatever, but anyway, it doesn't matter now.''
Things got ramped up in 2006, when Eric Mangini left Belichick's staff in New England to become coach of the Jets. Then came the ''Spygate'' scandal, when New England was penalized $750,000 and a first-round draft pick by the NFL for illegal sideline videotaping of the Jets.
Ryan has had his own moments, such as a few months after he was hired by the Jets in 2009 when he said he wasn't in New York ''to kiss Bill Belichick's rings.'' Ryan has, however, often repeated that he respects Belichick and all he has accomplished with the Patriots.
''I don't know what the big beef is between New York and Boston,'' Pace said. ''Seriously, I mean, you've got the Knicks-Celtics, Yankees-Red Sox and us against the Patriots. There are so many championships between all of them, but I guess that's what makes it the rivalry it is. It's so personal, and that's why I say the Patriots are the `Evil Empire.'''
Ryan shrugged his shoulders and smiled when asked of Pace's assessment.
''Well, that's been in a bunch of papers and all that stuff with Belichick and Darth Vader,'' he said. ''Yeah, why not?''
That's as far as Ryan will go in terms of trash talking this week. The Jets haven't been as chatty as they have in some weeks, but Ryan said his team is ''relaxed, focused, loose.''
''You look at some of the best rivalries in pro football, like Baltimore and the Steelers, that's Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti,'' Pace said, referring to another classic boxing matchup. ''Somebody's going to come out bloody and they're going to beat themselves to a pulp. I think our game is a little bit more of a chess match.''
Meaning, the Jets and Patriots try to flip the field position, force turnovers and usually make it come down to a final drive. And this time, this matchup might decide who has to hit the road for the playoffs, and who gets to enjoy the comforts of home.
''We're so similar, and I don't think anyone ever wants to admit that,'' Pace said. ''It's just funny that it always comes down to Jets-Patriots. These games are so big.''