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Original Issue

The Joy of Rex

The Jets' coach's crack about abstinence hit home with NFL players, especially with one retiree who understands his sense of humor

The coach of the New York Jets is reported to have delivered a message to his players going into their game against the Patriots on Sunday: "Rest your legs. You go home; don't do anything for your wife this week. Say, 'Baby, next week. I'm going to do it next week. I'm going to take out the trash next week. I'll take the kids to practice next week. But I've got to rest for this game.'" The translation, for many, extended beyond simple household chores and into the bedroom. The coach was telling his team, We're going to try to catch Tom Brady with all the mustard we have in the bottle.

Every player has his own pregame rituals and philosophies. When I played football, I had a weekly routine. I monitored my food intake methodically. I knew, down to the bite, what would give me the feeling I needed on game day. And since what goes in must come out, I monitored my outtake, too. I had an ear to the chirpings of my inner workings. I knew how a late-night bowl of ice cream would affect me on the field the next day, or a Gatorade in the locker room or a cup of coffee pregame. Physical nourishment, I burned through it all very quickly.

But a man has other, shall we say, appetites. And in the NFL there's plenty of time to ponder them. Every player (except for the punter and placekicker) sits in a meeting room for three or four hours a day, tuning out the drone of coachspeak. And it's not a two-way street. It's not a dialogue. It is sitting still and being quiet. One man speaking, 53 listening, sort of. Many are actually partaking in the most effective escape from meeting rooms and playbooks—daydreams, which divide the hours into tolerable slices. And when the minds of young men with money wander, they usually focus on one thing—and it's not telling the wife "next week."

The gentlemen's club of the mind is always open. So when those meetings end, the married guys go home to their wives and the single go wherever they go, aided by the knowledge that the fruits of hard labor hang low in the NFL, easily pluckable and extremely ripe.

But explosive athletic performance requires a well-rested and well-regulated body and mind. For some that means abstinence. One season in Denver, after overhearing some of the young guys laughing about their difficulties abstaining from self-congratulatory Internet surfing, one of our veterans confessed that he'd been Master of his Domain—to borrow a Seinfeldism—for 14 years. Fourteen long years, we all agreed.

On the other hand we had players who regularly capitalized on the two free pay-per-view movies that were a staple of our pregame hotel accommodations. And they weren't watching Hollywood blockbusters.

Before one preseason road game halfway through my career, my girlfriend came to the hotel. I was able to spend some time with her, breaking my own rule of pregame abstinence, which only served to reinforce its efficacy. On the field the next day my feet were stuck in quicksand. Lesson learned. But everyone is different.

Enter coach Rex Ryan. He is a players' coach because he understands young men, and he governs with this innate understanding tucked into his belt. Rex, as we know, still harbors a randy fantasy or two of his own, which puts him in the minority of NFL coaches. That's what sets Rex apart; that's the origin of his mojo, I think. He holds on to his sensual humanity, much to the chagrin of some members of the media, who would prefer him neutered. It would make those press conferences so much more conventional if he weren't so ... virile!

Certainly, the coach's recommendation to his team is more tongue-in-cheek than, well, tongue-in-cheek. He was being funny. The crappy thing about media narratives in sports, especially those concerning Rex and his Jets, is that the context is lost in the game of telephone that ensues.

Obviously, abstaining in advance of a game is a personal choice. Some guys like being riled up and on edge. Some like the calming effects of choosing not to "rest their legs." Whatever their personal preference, Rex Ryan was there to let his players know, in his own way, that sex is still fun to joke about, especially when you're having it.

Nate Jackson played in the NFL from 2003 to '08. His book, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile, published by HarperCollins, is now available in bookstores and online.

P. 20

Soccer Sponsorships

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Extra Mustard

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Faces in the Crowd

P. 28

Dan Patrick

Will Ferrell

P. 30

The Case for

Ian Eagle

Go Fig


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