AT the turn of the last century, as the hem of American society was dampened by wave after wave of European immigrants, the Irish stretched out their legs beneath the table, threw a cap onto the coat hook behind the closing door and made themselves at home.
Conductors swinging off the San Francisco tram as it climbed crooked Lombard Street whistled Irish airs.
Miners in Montana sent coal-smudged envelopes home across the Atlantic.
And the hard-working criminals who ran the boxing game in New York and New Jersey sang ballads and made threats in distinctly green brogues. Welcome to America.
Around this time, Frank Sinatra’s father, Martin, a “ruddy and tattooed little blue-eyed Sicilian born in Catania” boxed under the name of Marty O’Brien.
It was safer than wearing a gum shield.
In fact, in those days, and in those places, with the Irish running the basement-level of city life, it was quite common for Italians – particularly those who clocked on for an evening’s work when the ringside bell was struck – to wind up with such names.
It’s understandable, when you consider that most of those who migrated from Italy around the 1900’s were poor and uneducated, were excluded from the trades unions dominated by the Irish, and felt on their necks the stout-scented breath of the police and politicians.
Across the Hudson, Hoboken, a blue-collar New Jersey town, offered the world the black-tied Frank Albert Sinatra.
Not a million miles away, in the newly-constructed Meadowlands Stadium in the same state, on Monday night, another Irish name will climb into the ring as the bell rings on another American Football season.
Meet, Rex Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets.
Last year the Oklahoma native took the long-suffering Jets to within one game of the Super Bowl in his first season in the hot seat.
But more than that he earned a name as the biggest personality – and physical presence – on an NFL sideline.
Ryan is, according to the New York Times, “An immense man whose thick foothills of neck and haunch swell into a spectacular butte at the midsection, he possesses a personal geography that, from first-and-10 distance, assumes a form that follows his function – Ryan looks like nothing more than an extra-large football.”
Like his GAA cousins, the 47-year-old Ryan is known for naming a side in the match programme and in the media during the build-up to crucial games – before we find the team lines out completely differently.
Brian Cody’s stony, inscrutable facade offers little insight to those watching from the stands or on TV as Tommy Walsh drops into an opposite corner or Henry Shefflin confounds predictions to play.
But as the plot unfurls around him on matchday, Ryan will smile widely behind his Madonna-like mic headset, nudge his assistant with a little joke and share in the enjoyment of another stroke pulled. He’s made sport fun again.
The Jets are Ryan’s first head-coaching job, but long before the team hired him last year, he was already known as a ‘defensive auteur’ – a man with “a beautiful football mind.”
Like Donal O’Grady master-minding an original short puck-out strategy or Micky Harte imposing a blanket defence on gaelic football, Ryan offers a philosophy of innovation.
His scheme of “organised chaos,” – an unpredictable approach that keeps the opposition constantly guessing – is unique.
And it’s bringing results; the Jets, eternally cold in the shadow of their glamorous neighbours the Giants, haven’t been warmed by a Super Bowl success since the famous Joe Namath dragged them to one in 1969. Now they’re closer than ever.
Every year the TV station that brought us Jersey-set The Sopranos follows one NFL side in their pre-season as part of the Hard Knocks programme (Please someone make a GAA version).
This year they chose Ryan’s Jets. Where he brings new thinking to the backroom chalkboard, so too he is imaginative in his swearing (fans produce pie charts that detail his penchant for bad language; ‘slapd**k’ made a debut this week).
And his bowel-irritating secret eating habits in ‘Cafe Ryan’ – the area he filled with garden furniture outside his office where he hosts fried chicken picnics with his defensive staff – have been exposed.
But it’s his relationship with his players that has shone through the haze of a tough preseason.
“I’ll always tell you,” is one of his signature phrases, and blunt as he is, his players trust his OCD level of preparation and canny reading of a super- complicated game.
In fact, he does see football more acutely than others. After taking routine psychological tests for the league he learned he can watch football in real time and grasp what all 22 pawns on the chess board are doing. He doesn’t understand why, but he sees it all.
As the only other team he ever worked for, the Baltimore Ravens, come to New Jersey on Monday night for the first game of their season, Ryan – the Irish name pulling the strings in New York – will stalk the sideline with a smile, probably because the Jets are winning. He’s doing it his way.
Adrian.email@example.com Twitter: @adrianrussell
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