Ryan twins share 50 years of passion for the game

Jim Ryan still remembers the moment he and his younger brothers, twins Rob and Rex, adopted the sole rule that governed the backyard football games of their youth.

That day, Rex was quarterback, Rob was the receiver and Jim was the defensive back; when Rob ran an out route, Jim shoved him over a snow bank and down into a roadway winding through the Toronto neighborhood they lived in with their mother.

A motorist nearly ran over Rob, almost in his teens at the time, Jim recalls.

Jim and Rex helped their brother up. They assured the shrieking woman who slammed on her brakes to avoid killing Rob that everything was fine.

And the Ryan brothers agreed that it should be illegal to fling someone into a moving vehicle.

“Then, we were like, ‘First down. Let’s go,’” and play resumed, Jim Ryan said.

Jim Ryan’s passion for football subsided, and he’s now an attorney in St. Louis.

But his kid brothers’ passion continued as they grew up to become teammates in college, fellow coaches and then opposing ones.

On Sunday, defensive coordinator Rob’s New Orleans Saints (6-1) visit head coach Rex’s New York Jets (4-4), the ninth occasion the 50-year-old twins clash as coaches. Those around them expect the showdown to unfold in the same manner they always do when the corpulent, vocal Ryan twins are at odds — they’ll work to tear each other apart until the competition is over and it’s time to be fiercely close again.

“We are going to try and beat each other’s brains in, and you want to have your hand raised in victory at the end of the game — that is the most important thing,” said Rex Ryan, Jets coach since 2009. “You hate it, because you pull for each other so bad.

“Every single week ... I’ll be on the sidelines, and they will be flashing (other) scores, and I’ll be looking for one game. I just care about New Orleans. ... I want to see how (Rob) is doing. I want him to be doing great.”

Often, as Jim Ryan can attest, those are indeed sentiments Rex and Rob share. After moving to the United States, enrolling at Southwestern Oklahoma State and playing together on the same defense, the twins famously owned one wallet between them, letting whoever had a date keep it for the night.

When neither had a date, they were perfectly content to simply be with each other, said Jim Ryan, who’s six years older than the twins.

Perhaps the most memorable instance of that was when Jim dropped in on Rob and Rex at school, and they watched an entire playoff hockey game that started on a Saturday evening and, after four overtime periods, concluded early Sunday.

“We were probably the only TV set in Oklahoma tuned into hockey,” Jim Ryan joked.

But if ever the twins quarreled, shattered bones weren’t out of the ordinary.

Take, for instance, the renowned dorm-room brawl that left Rob with a broken ankle shortly before they had to travel to New Orleans to cheer on their dad , Buddy, the 1985 Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator, in Super Bowl XX.

The Ryan boys hammered out plans to revel in the streets of New Orleans but decided they’d walk everywhere to save money, having no mercy on Rob, who was in a cast. Rob had to “suck it up” if he wanted to tag along, Jim Ryan said.

Rob did, refusing to back from the challenge his brothers posed — or to be apart from them.

“The whole bottom of his cast was worn off, but that’s OK,” Jim Ryan said.

Upon graduating, Rex and Rob embarked on coaching careers. Jim Ryan said that was against the advice of their father, who, after his divorce from their mother, urged his sons to find another profession that was less strenuous on families.

The twins in the mid-90s served under their dad while he coached the Arizona Cardinals, but they faced off four times as members of college coaching staffs between 1987 and 1998. Rex won the first Ryan Bowl, then Rob triumphed in the next three.

Rob and Rex were both NFL defensive coordinators by 2005, and the twins have since met four times. Rex, to Rob’s dismay, is undefeated.

Rex was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator and beat Oakland in 2006 and ’08 when Rob was there. In ’10 and ’11, respectively, Rob’s Browns and Cowboys lost to Rex’s Jets.

Rob, though, can draw comfort from knowing he earned two Super Bowl rings while he was New England’s linebackers coach from 2000-03. And he does, frequently using the media to taunt Rex for having only one championship ring (as the 2000 Ravens’ defensive line coach).

Members of a Saints defense that allowed an average of 17 points — fourth best in the NFL — in the seven games since Rob Ryan arrived in New Orleans vowed to help their coordinator clinch that elusive win against his twin in the pros.

“It’s a ... family rivalry, so you know there’s a little bit more heat to it,” said safety Kenny Vaccaro, whom the Saints chose in the first round of this year’s draft. “Rob believed in me, ... and I want to do whatever I can to help him get that victory.”

Linebacker Curtis Lofton added, “I don’t think (Rob) just wants to beat his brother — he wants to destroy his brother.”

History indicates Rex will deploy everything the Jets have at their disposal to deny his brother the satisfaction. However, it sounded like Rex might be able to eventually move on from a defeat at Rob’s hands, if merely for one reason.

“It’s really a special thing,” Rex said, “when you consider how fortunate we both are to be in this league ... (and) to make it this far and to have the success we’ve had throughout our careers.”