Steelers' Tomlin, Jets' Ryan say they like each other, but they're a study in contrasts

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Sunday's AFC championship game offers football mavens a stark choice.

In this corner, wearing green and white, we have loud-talkin', feet-lovin', chest-thumpin' Rex Ryan. If pro wrasslin' is your idea of entertainment, Ryan's "Hard Knocks" New York Jets are your team.

In the opposite corner, wearing black and gold, we have tight-lipped, no-drama, this-isn't-about-me Mike Tomlin. If pro wrasslin' is your idea of a gum scraping — it certainly is mine — Tomlin's old-school Pittsburgh Steelers are for you, the last hope for sparing America two weeks of Ryan-centric Super Bowl hype.

Crazy thing is, Tomlin and Ryan profess to be friends.

"He's one of my favorite coaches," Ryan said during a news conference.

"I love Rex," Tomlin said. "Rex has a lot of fun with (reporters), but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach. He has the pulse of his football team. He does a great job of motivating them, is very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half full. I appreciate that. …

"I tell you, our styles are probably more similar than you would imagine."

Steeped in defense and all-weather offense, their teams play similarly. And five weeks ago, the Jets beat the Steelers 22-17 in a game that ended with Pittsburgh 10 yards from the winning touchdown.

But Tomlin, a Denbigh High and William and Mary graduate, and Ryan couldn't be more different in public.

Ryan craves attention. He preened for HBO's "Hard Knocks" cameras, reveled in challenging New England counterpart Bill Belichick and, we pray inadvertently, had his bedroom preferences exposed.

Tomlin loathes attention. Even as the 2008 Steelers made him the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, Tomlin eluded the media rush, touted only his players and staff, and returned to the comfort of his family.

Maybe it's their backgrounds.

Ryan's father, Buddy, was a larger-than-life coach, the architect of the Chicago Bears' championship defense in 1985 and a head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Tomlin is the son of a postal worker.

Maybe it's their markets.

Ryan works in New York, where understated doesn't make the back page of the tabloids. Tomlin works in Pittsburgh, where pretension is as welcome as Browns' fans.

Maybe it's their franchises.

The Jets haven't made the Super Bowl since another showman, Broadway Joe Namath, quarterbacked them 41 years ago. The Steelers own a record six Super Bowl titles and are a testament to ownership and coaching stability.

Not to suggest that Tomlin would morph into Ryan, or vice-versa, were they coaching the other's team. And not to imply that Tomlin is faint of heart — his faith in his players and himself is just more subtle.

The Jets and Steelers reflect their respective leaders. There's New York linebacker Bart Scott angrily — or was it an act? — calling out ESPN's Tom Jackson for picking the Patriots to beat the Jets. There's Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark resisting any and all smack-talk bait.

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