Sunday's AFC championship game offers football mavens a stark choice.
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.
"There's not many good storylines with us," Clark said. "The only storyline we have is six trophies, and we're trying to get another one, and that's what we're working toward. …
"We go about our business and prepare the right way to play a football game. We don't do a lot of talking."
Ryan's way works for the Jets, too. They are 20-12 in his two regular seasons, 4-1 in the playoffs, all on the road.
The Steelers are 43-21 in Tomlin's four regular seasons. They, too, are 4-1 in the playoffs after last week's improbable comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
"You look at our backgrounds, we're similar," Ryan said of himself and Tomlin. "We're defensive guys. We both have incredible opportunities. We know that. I just want to win a Super Bowl like he has. Talk about respect, I have a huge amount of respect for Mike Tomlin."
Ryan earned a Super Bowl ring as Baltimore's defensive line coach in 2000; Tomlin's first ring came two years later as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary coach.
Is Ryan good for the NFL? Tomlin seemed amused by the question.
"I think he's great for the Jets," Tomlin said, "and I think that's all he's concerned about being great for. He's got them in the AFC championship game. I'm sure he's not concerned about the National Football League."
Reporters asked both coaches for some self-evaluation, and their answers were in character.
"All I can do is coach football," Ryan said. "I'm not an expert on anything other than this game of football. I know the type of men it takes to play this game. I know what you look for in a guy."
Said Tomlin: "If you're not getting better, I don't care what business you're in, you're a dead man. I try to look critically at the mistakes that I make and try to learn from them, like our team does. I like to think that I am (improving). Of course, the proof is in the pudding."
Three AFC North titles, two AFC championship games and one Super Bowl title are considerable evidence. And with another Super Bowl beckoning, Tomlin had no time for extracurriculars.
Better to figure out how the Jets beat his guys last month. Better to design blitzes for safety Troy Polamalu, who missed that game with an Achilles injury.
"That's sidebar stuff," Tomlin said of the chatter. "We're in the AFC championship. … I think they've been pretty consistent about stating their intentions all year, which is to be world champs. I think we've been pretty consistent about stating ours, so you know where that's going to lead us. That's two trains on a track."
The collision comes Sunday evening in the Steel City. Bet neither conductor blinks.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP