When New York Jets coach Rex Ryan threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a recent New York Mets game, he wore a Nolan Ryan throwback, circa 1969.
At a New York Yankees game, Ryan showed up in a retro Thurman Munson jersey.
In Chicago, at Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, he turned heads with a Chicago Blackhawks throwback. Bobby Hull? Stan Mikita? No, it was "Griswold 00," a replica worn by Chevy Chase's character in the comedy "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."
When it comes to casual attire, the Jets' coach prefers old-school. Ryan's closet is filled with more than 50 throwbacks, including jerseys from the four major sports and a handful from sports-themed movies.
Ryan's personality is big and colorful, and that's how he likes his clothes.
"I want to be comfortable, and I don't take myself too seriously," he says, explaining his fondness for sports jerseys. "I have a true love and a true passion for sports. That's who I am. I'm more comfortable at a ballgame than I would be at an opera or watching a show. I love watching games."
During the summer, or until he reports to training camp Aug. 1, Ryan will wear a throwback almost every day. It could be Ed Giacomin one day, Ernie Banks the next. If he prefers playful over nostalgic, he might opt for his Mean Machine jersey from "The Longest Yard."
Yeah, he's got that.
He also has Bobby Boucher's football jersey from "The Waterboy" and Roy Hobbs' gray flannels from "The Natural."
Baseball? Ryan has Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Billy Williams and a 1908 Chicago Cubs replica. He attended high school in Chicago, where his father, Buddy, served as the Bears' defensive coordinator in the 1980s. That explains the heavy Cubs representation in his wardrobe.
In other sports, Ryan has Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Walt Frazier, Bob Lanier, Gordie Howe, Dave Schultz and, of course, Joe Namath.
For the record, Ryan owns Namath's white Jets jersey, not green, because Broadway Joe wore white in Super Bowl III. If you didn't know that Ryan is obsessed with the Super Bowl, you haven't been reading the New York headlines for the past 18 months.
He created a stir a few months ago while wearing Schultz to a Carolina Hurricanes game. Recognized in the crowd, he was approached by Hurricanes cheerleaders, who presented him with the home team's jersey. He changed on the spot, but when pulling off his Flyers jersey, he experienced … um … a wardrobe malfunction, revealing his belly to the crowd. That made the ESPN highlights.
Ryan started collecting throwbacks about 10 years ago, when he was a Baltimore Ravens assistant. It's not a cheap hobby (the average price is about $250), and it isn't easy finding a size 60 or 64.
"I have to do some digging," he says.
Ryan's oldest brother, Jim, a St. Louis attorney, believes the fascination stems from their childhood in Toronto, where they lived for eight years with their mother. In the heart of hockey country, most kids wore jeans and a hockey sweater to school.
Jim's favorite throwback, though, is baseball-related -- a replica jersey from the original "Bad News Bears" movie, complete with the "Chico's Bail Bonds" ad on the back. Ryan owns No. 12, Tanner Boyle, the pint-sized shortstop. As his older brother notes, "You could put 10 Tanners in that throwback."
Jim Ryan tells a funny story from 2004, when his other brother, Rob, Rex's twin, was hired as the Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator. This happened during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Jim and Rex wanted to congratulate Rob, so they met his flight at the airport.
Rob emerged from the plane with his two bosses, owner Al Davis and coach Norv Turner, both of whom did double and triple takes when they saw Rex in a "Bad News Bears" jersey.
"They were looking at him up and down, and there was this awkward silence," Jim says. "Finally, Norv broke the ice and said, 'Hey, nice throwback.' I'm not sure Al Davis knew what it was."
The throwbacks go perfectly with Ryan's "regular guy" image. But sometimes he can be too regular. At the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last summer in St. Louis, Rex was invited to a $200-a-head dinner. He was all dressed to go, but his brother convinced him his attire wasn't appropriate -- a Bada Bing Club T-shirt.
Wisely, he passed on the dinner. There's a difference between throwback and thrown out.