NIAGARA FALLS – If Friday is a hint of what’s to come for the Buffalo Bills in 2015, this should at least be an entertaining season.
At the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, it was raining Rex Ryan.
The team’s new head coach jumped out of an airplane from about 9,000 feet in the sky with the United States Army’s “Golden Knights” as part of the weekend’s Thunder of Niagara Air Show. He safety parachuted to the ground – in tandem, of course – and then resembled a coach who had just spent three hours trying to out-wit Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
This thrill, he said, was on par with game day.
“I can’t wait to play and compete,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of the feeling you get when you get out there – I’m competing. That’s a great feeling. But then the physical part of it, I can’t believe how physically drained I feel right now because I did nothing. Physically, it’s like ‘wow.’ ”
This is the new face of the Buffalo Bills. A team suddenly full of personalities is led by arguably the most overwhelming personality in the game. So when Ryan was asked to parachute, no way was he turning it down.
To him, skydiving beats the alternative during this down period in the NFL.
“Why not?” Ryan said. “I like living. … I just like doing stuff like this, a little thrill seeking. It beats going to a state park, I think.”
Attached to a partner, Ryan circled the skies for several minutes and needed to make a mid-flight, pull-up-like adjustment with his partner before eventually landing in a nearby field. While this was the first time Ryan has ever skydived, he admitted he does “a lot of stuff like this.” He wasn’t nervous beforehand, but was clearly feeling the adrenaline rush after.
In the air, he said he felt like he was “flying.”
“As soon as you step out, it’s ‘wow,’ ” Ryan said. “I can’t describe it. … You guys need to do it. Unless you do it, I don’t think people can do it justice.”
New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, one of Ryan’s former players, was also at the event. Decker flew in a fighter jet with the Air Force Thunderbirds and met with Ryan afterward.
And watching on from afar with a wide smile was Congressman Chris Collins of the 27th district. Collins isn’t ready to jump out of a plane himself. But right here, he said, is the coach this city needs.
“If that doesn’t say it all,” said Collins, his words trailing off. “He is going to resonate across all of our fans. He is exactly what we need.”
Maybe so. Could you see the likes of Dick Jauron, Chan Gailey or Doug Marrone taking such a leap of faith less than two weeks before training camp?
As Ryan said, “This is kind of who I am.” He’s the gregarious character captured in a flurry of F-bombs on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the one players say they’d run through a wall for. The honeymoon in Buffalo has lasted six months now.
For 20 minutes after his dive, Ryan got the rock star treatment from fans. Along a back fence, he shook hands and posed for selfies. One fan yelled “You looked good jumping, Rex!” Another faint “Let’s Go Buffalo!” picked up. The new head coach can do no wrong right now.
Soon, however, Ryan will need to put a product on the field – and he knows that’s when he’ll truly be judged.
For all the good vibes on Friday, one of his coaches was just arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge a week ago for allegedly punching and threatening to kill a minor’s family. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was placed on indefinite paid administrative leave by the Bills and will appear in court Aug. 12.
Ryan declined to comment on Kromer, only saying “A lot of the process is still going on.”
“The community’s been awesome to me,” Ryan said. “They’ve embraced me. I get it, we haven’t lost a game yet. So we’ll see when that happens. Maybe it won’t be as good. But realistically, I know this community is behind this team, behind me. I sense it, I feel it. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”
Time will tell.
For now, he doesn’t want players to get any ideas from this skydive.
“Even if I broke a leg or something like that, it doesn’t really matter,” Ryan said. “All I do is point anyway. Not recommended for the players but for a coach, go for it.”