True Halloween story: I attended a blurry parade of parties last weekend while dressed as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. I bragged - in character, of course - which separates me from the real-life Ryan, the real-life Miami Heat, and everyone else in sports who covers up truth by playing a fake role ...
DONUT 1: So I'm dressed as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The ingredients were simple to assemble: I grew a goatee. I donned a long grey wig. I wore a headset. I taped a pillow to my belly.
And I had a bit: I told everyone who would listen and laugh – partying Cowboys fans anticipating Sunday’s Dallas-at-Philadelphia duel (the women all dressed as either “slutty pirates,’’ “slutty actresses’’ or “slutty sluts,’’ by the way) that I was going to “beat the ass’’ of the “all-hype Eagles.’’
Of course, I said it to harmless fans.
The real Rob Ryan said it directly to the Philadelphia Eagles, and that takes us to the Problem With Posers.
DONUT 2: The Eagles are empowered to actually respond to the taunts – and did, with a 34-7 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys, an outcome that humiliated Dallas and humbled the Cowboys’ brash first-year coordinator.
“I got outcoached by (Eagles coach Andy) Reid and their staff," Ryan said after a game in which his defense permitted 495 total yards. "I mean, it's ridiculous. I never gave our guys a chance. The whole (bleep) thing was on me. If I gave them any extra motivation, hell, I certainly never backed it up. I gave our guys a lousy plan. We had no chance, and it's all on me.’’
DONUT 3: Ryan gets props from this corner for facing the music for his foolishness. But as I’ve said often in covering this team for 21 years, maybe this Cowboys organization – which has earned the “all-hype’’ label due to infinitely more self-promotion than the Eagles are guilty of – should’ve avoided the foolishness in the first place.
DONUT 4: It was back in training camp, as Philly was gaining daily attention for its rat-a-tat signings of name players, when Ryan popped off. Sound-mixed into the blabbering chorus was Vince Young’s declaration that Philly was assembling a “dream team.’’
But Young’s statement was immaterial, considering the source; he is, after all, a backup QB (who this season has thrown one pass for one interception). His fingerprints are not anywhere on the Eagles’ 3-4 record.
Ryan, however, works under head coach Jason Garrett as the architect of this defense and is very much responsible for both the successes and failures represented by Dallas’ 3-4 record. Ryan gets credit for the fact that going into Sunday night, Dallas boasted the NFL's fifth-ranked total defense and its No. 1 defense against the run.
And today? The Eagles rushed for 239 yards – tripling what the Cowboys usually allow.
DONUT 5: "Andy Reid was reading my mail," Ryan said. "He kicked my ass. I've just got to go back and work harder. I've got to be smarter than this. That's all it comes down to."
DONUT 6: It is impossible to gauge how much of this defeat has to do with Ryan’s gameplan, how much of it has to do with the Eagles’ talent, and how much it has to do with any inspiration Ryan provided to Philly. This is the sort of thing that opens itself up to revisionist history and after-the-fact told-ya-so’s.
In Game 2 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were judged guilty of premature preening as they were up by 15 with 7:14 left. But only after the Dallas Mavericks’ improbable comeback (the Mavs won the game 95-93) was Jason Terry and company able to claim that they were inspired by Miami’s impudence.
DONUT 8: Remember the rally, an inspired Dallas team coming back with a late 22-5 run?
DONUT 9: If the Mavs lose that game – by 15 points or by one point – nobody notices or complains or cares about the “disrespect.’’
Only after the comeback victory was Jet able to say that the Mavs' win -- an all-timer -- was tied in any way to the Heat's silliness.
DONUT 10: The Eagles didn't much bother to return verbal fire during this past week. Running back LeSean McCoy carried 20 times for 185 yards and two TDs. Quarterback Michael Vick solved Ryan’s blitzes by completing 21-of-28 for 279 yards and two TDs, and rushed for 50 more on seven carries. Pass-catchers DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Macklin and Brent Celek kept drives alive as the Eagles scored on all of their first five possessions.
There was no hype. No need to volley back taunts. Just domination.
DONUT 11: I can argue that Ryan’s bravado is in his DNA. He’s the NFL’s most outspoken assistant coach; his challenge to the Eagles is only his second goofiest gaffe of the half-season, as earlier this year he questioned the excellence of Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson. (Detroit beat Dallas as Johnson caught two late TD passes in a massive comeback.) Rob is matched by his twin brother Rex of the New York Jets, who is the NFL’s most outspoken head coach if only because he habitually promises Super Bowl titles but remains ring-less.
And both of them are trying to follow in the footsteps of their stir-the-pot father, Buddy Ryan, whose flapping gums created rivalries with other teams (when he was with the Eagles) and with his own team (Buddy was the defensive coordinator of the 1985 Chicago Bears, and courted attention so he could be recognized as being a peer of head coach Mike Ditka).
DONUT 12: Psychologically speaking, it seems to me there are four reasons sports figures flap their gums like this:
* Ego-driven adorers of their own voices, they do so to amuse themselves, and/or because they are convinced that their words are weighty.
* They believe in creating challenges for themselves and their teams – challenges that outrageous promises force them to live up to.
* They understand that this is theater, that someone must play the villain, that there are tickets to be sold and TV ratings to be gained and that the NFL needs “interesting’’ people.
* Their bravado is false and their press conferences are empty. All of it equals time wasted, time better spent formulating gameplans and teaching players.
I think we now knhow that the Miami Heat was driven by all four of those motivations. I don’t know which of those four motivations best fit Rob Ryan. I just know that now that Halloween weekend is over, I can shave the goatee, take off the wig, and remove the pillow.
But Rob Ryan? During this haunting time for the Cowboys, he’s stuck with the words and the deeds and the being of Rob Ryan.