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Feuding fuels Patriots, Jets ; NFL's fiercest rivalry reaches new peak

The New York Jets versus the New England Patriots has blossomed -- or is it blown up? -- into the fiercest rivalry in the NFL, and one of the most intense in all of sports, with Antonio Cromartie dousing the hate-fest with even more gasoline with this week's Tom Brady-drive vitriol.

The most heated rivalry Darrelle Revis has been a part of? Well, not exactly.

"It was Aliquippa vs. Beaver Falls," the Jets' star cornerback said, harking back to his high school days in western Pennsylvania. "We'd have fistfights against them. I remember my senior year [in 2003], they were 4-5 and we were 6-0 and they beat us, 33-18, in homecoming week. At the end of the game, they were stomping on our Indian head in the middle of the field, so some of our players started fighting and stuff. Now that's a rivalry."

Chances are Jets-Pats won't end in a brawl on Sunday in the AFC divisional playoffs. But at the rate the trash talking keeps going, this latest chapter of pro football's nastiest feud will no doubt provide more fireworks and make the rivalry even more powerful and deeply rooted than it already is.

Jets-Patriots may not have the near century-long history of Yankees-Red Sox, which probably trumps all in pro sports. But since the moment Bill Parcells took over as the Patriots' coach in 1993 until now, the matchup has easily turned into one of the most heated, yet downright entertaining competitions anywhere. The combination of off-field drama and on-field competition is simply delectable, and the myriad story lines from these last two decades have made Jets-Patriots all the more intriguing:

*Parcells quickly builds the Patriots into a contender, and gets them to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season, while the Jets flop around in the Bruce Coslet/Pete Carroll/Rich Kotite mess.

*Parcells jumps to the Jets in '97, even though Leon Hess is found to have tampered and is docked four draft picks including the Jets' first-round pick in 1999. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, meanwhile, hires Carroll.

*Parcells steps down as the Jets' coach and hands the reins to defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, an era that lasts all of one day, capped off by the infamous "I, BB, resign as HC of the NYJ" note from the coach informing the team he didn't want to work under Parcells.

*Which was, of course, the prelude to Belichick being hired by Kraft and launching the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships in four years.

*Then it's Belichick's own defensive coordinator, Eric Mangini, defecting to the Jets as head coach in 2006.

*And then the infamous Spygate episode that started when the Jets caught the Patriots illegally taping their defensive signals in Week Two of the 2007 season.

*The Rex Ryan era has only reinvigorated the rivalry, with the Jets' bombastic head coach ramping things up by saying he didn't come here to "kiss Belichick's rings." Then this week's Rex-versus-Belichick soliloquy, in which the Jets' coach said the game had everything to do with the coaches matching wits.

*And now the Cromartie screed, complete with all his hate-filled invective against Brady.

It is great theater, and it is usually great football -- last month's 45-3 romp by the Patriots notwithstanding. Ryan is 2-2 against the Patriots, and the stakes are no bigger in Sunday's rubber match, with the winner advancing to within one game of the Super Bowl.

The Jets are flapping their gums this week like there's no tomorrow, while the Patriots are taking Belichick's cues by not returning verbal fire and instead waiting for the game to deliver their message.

You will not find a more intriguing matchup, both on and off the field, and there is little doubt that Sunday's game will live up to the hype in some form or another. A blowout win by the Patriots, and they deliver the ultimate in-your-face. A win by the Jets, and the trash-talking express moves on to the AFC Championship Game.

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