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Football Notes

No trouble crossing border

Izzo has made smooth transition to the Jets

LARRY IZZO3 titles with N.E. LARRY IZZO3 titles with N.E.
By Christopher L. Gasper
July 5, 2009
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Larry Izzo is on the Other Side now. Some in these parts would call it the Dark Side. He’s a member of the New York Jets, a switch of affiliations that is akin to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (remember him?) reneging his Republican status to become a Democrat.

Owner of three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, Izzo signed with the J-E-T-S in March. The 34-year-old has adjusted to life on the other side of the Border War.

“Obviously, when you first make the move, the first time you’re in the building it’s a little surreal, crossing over to another team in the division,’’ said Izzo, who came to the Patriots in 2001 after five seasons in Miami. “But having done it once already I was able to make a smooth transition.’’

Going to the Jets reunites Izzo with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who was Miami’s special teams coach when Izzo went from undrafted rookie out of Rice in 1996 to special teams sensation.

Izzo joined the Patriots with a reputation of being one of the league’s best special teams performers and cemented that during his time in New England by going to two of his three Pro Bowls. Last season, Izzo led the Patriots in special teams tackles with 14, the sixth time he led or tied for the team lead, but coach Bill Belichick didn’t show a lot of interest in his special teams captain.

Izzo’s deal with the Jets is a one-year contract that carries a base salary of $845,000, the veteran minimum for a player with 10 or more years of NFL experience.

“It wasn’t as if there was any great attempt, not to get into too many details,’’ Izzo said. “It was time to move on. I had a nice conversation with Bill. [Patriots owner] Mr. [Robert] Kraft reached out to me when the news came that I would not be back. The eight years, the experience I had there with that organization, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.’’

Izzo is excited to play for new Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has drawn attention this offseason for his outspoken comments.

“It’s awesome,’’ said Izzo of playing for Ryan. “He’s a really high-energy, very positive coach. He has been around a lot of football all his life, very similar to Bill Belichick’s background in terms of being a coach’s son and being around football at an early age. Obviously, their styles are different, but as far as what they bring to the table there are similarities. It’s just they have different ways of doing it.’’

Ryan raised eyebrows when he made it clear in a radio interview that he did not harbor reverence for Belichick and his Super Bowl titles.

“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings,’’ Ryan told New York’s WFAN last month. “I came here to win. Let’s put it that way . . . I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else.’’

Belichick’s Super Bowl baubles are the same as Izzo’s, so what did he think of his new coach’s comments?

“I didn’t interpret it in any negative way at all. I didn’t feel slighted or disrespected,’’ said Izzo. “I didn’t think that was the intention of his comments.

“A lot of times the media tends to blow things out of proportion and take a comment and twist it. That situation, it might have been twisted. That’s not to say I’m not going to back up anything perceived from it. We’re going to go out and play physical and be aggressive and be an attacking type of team. We’re a confident team. The guys I’ve seen I’ve been very impressed with as players. I’m excited about what I see out there, and I’m sure Rex is, too. We’re confident, and from what I’ve seen we have a reason to be.’’

The New York area is not foreign territory for Izzo. His father, Larry, was born in the Little Italy section of Manhattan and went to high school on Long Island, where he met Izzo’s mother, Terry. But Boston will always be a big part of Izzo’s life. Two weeks after Izzo signed with the Jets, he and his wife, Mara, had their first child, a boy named Boston Alexander Izzo.

True champion of the cause

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney was sworn in last Thursday as US ambassador to Ireland. Rooney had been the NFL’s good-will ambassador for diversity and was the driving force behind the “Rooney Rule,’’ which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate during a head coaching search.

One of Rooney’s acts in his final months as chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee was to push for the expansion of the rule to the front office. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced June 15 that the “Rooney Rule’’ would be expanded to include senior football positions (the rule will not apply in situations like the Cowboys, where owner Jerry Jones is the general manager, or if a team has a preexisting contractual obligation to promote a member of its staff).

Currently, there are five African-American senior football executives - Rod Graves (Cardinals), Martin Mayhew (Lions), Ozzie Newsome (Ravens), Jerry Reese (Giants), and Rick Smith (Texans) among the 32 teams. There are also six African-American head coaches currently in the NFL, including Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.

John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates for diversity and equal opportunity in NFL hiring, said the Alliance was “ecstatic’’ over the change, and sad to see Rooney go from the diversity committee.

“We have been pushing for this for quite a while. It’s something that is just really, really meaningful,’’ said Wooten, a former player who served as director of pro personnel for the Cowboys and vice president of player personnel for the Eagles. “Mr. Rooney called me last Sunday afternoon to say goodbye. I can’t even tell you in words the impact of what this man has done. The years that I’ve known him and since he’s been the diversity chairman, the work and the things he’s done I can’t even enumerate for you. It’s been a godsend. Hopefully, the new chairman will realize what he’s done and try to match it.’’

His foot in the door, Gostkowski takes nothing for granted

Kickin’ it with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who answers a trio of questions:

Does it feel strange when they introduce you as Pro Bowl/All-Pro kicker Stephen Gostkowski?

SG: “It’s definitely cool. I can always say I made a Pro Bowl and I was on an All-Pro team, but I don’t want it to stop there. I’d like to maybe try to do it another time in my career. I just want to be known as being a consistent, reliable player, a guy that the team wants and that the team needs. That means a lot more to me than All-Pro or Pro Bowl, but it’s definitely an honor. I’m definitely not going to let it go to my head. Once training camp starts I’ll act like I’m a rookie again and I’m still fighting to make the team. That’s the approach I’ve taken ever since I started in the NFL.’’

Is this season maybe a little different after leading the league in field goals (36 of 40) and points (148)? Do you feel you’re a little more established?

SG: “I think every year you make a team you’re more established, whether you put out good numbers or not. I’ve been happy with all three of the years I’ve had. I wasn’t upset about any of the seasons that I’ve had. You definitely feel a little more comfortable with the whole process. You’re never comfortable in the games. You always have to work hard. I can’t just go out there and expect to make every kick and not work hard. But just being used to being a professional, it’s a lot easier. I might not get 40 opportunities to kick field goals this year. If I only get 25, I have to try to make as many of those as I can.’’

There hasn’t been another kicker brought in; is that good or bad?

SG: “It doesn’t matter. Whether there is someone there kicking next to me or not I have to perform well or they’re going to go looking for somebody. I think it’s more of a numbers thing. I think that if you can prove that you can do a good job and give them a reason where they don’t have to worry about it, then I don’t think it’s the end of the world not to have another kicker in there.’’

Etc.

One and done
Someday, the Buffalo Bills might play all their games in Toronto, but for now owner Ralph Wilson is content to just play one regular-season game north of the border. Wilson told the Associated Press he’d like to wait two or three years to determine whether it’s worthwhile to move another one of the Bills’ home games to Toronto’s Rogers Centre. The Bills agreed to play five regular-season games in Toronto from 2008-12. Last year, the Bills faced the Dolphins in Toronto and lost, 16-3, in what was a less-than-hostile environment for the Dolphins, as many Bills fans from Buffalo boycotted the game. This year, Buffalo will host the Jets in Toronto Dec. 3. The contract, which will pay Buffalo $78 million, also calls for the Bills to play three exhibition games in Toronto. Wilson said that even an expanded NFL schedule wouldn’t motivate him to move more games to Toronto at this point. While many view the games as a prelude to the Bills eventual shuffling off to Ontario, Wilson said it’s just the opposite. “We’re doing this to keep the team [in Buffalo],’’ he said. “I could see why people think that this is just the first step of moving the team. But they don’t realize how difficult it is to compete against the Cowboys and all these new stadiums.’’

On the lighter side
LenDale White is now “LenDale Light’’ and he wants to keep it that way. The Titans running back has slimmed down to 229 pounds by eating healthier and being a more consistent participant in the team’s offseason conditioning program, according to the Tennessean newspaper. White had 15 rushing touchdowns last season - including an 80-yarder against Kansas City when he reportedly weighed 261 pounds - tying him for third in the NFL, but has drawn the ire of the Titans before for being overweight. White, who is entering the final year of his contract, is aware that between now and the start of training camp July 31, his new habits are going to be put to the test. He said he won’t let his slimmed-down waistline go to waste. “It’s not going to happen,’’ said White. “Not the way I feel . . . So whatever I have to do, I am going to maintain. And when I check into camp [my weight] won’t be nothing over 230.’’

If things don’t work out . . .
United Football League commissioner Michael Huyghue let it be known again that his league would be interested in former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, as long as Vick’s legal issues are resolved. Vick is under home confinement until July 20, serving the remainder of his 23-month sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring. The Virginian-Pilot reported Vick left his job as a construction worker last week to begin working at the Boys & Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula. Before Vick can play anywhere he has to face adjudication from the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he will review Vick’s case after he’s done serving his sentence. Goodell is expected to suspend Vick. The UFL, which kicks off its inaugural season in October, has teams in Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. The Orlando team has Vick’s rights.

He’s positive
Count Santonio Holmes among those confident the Steelers will return to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl XLIII MVP told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “We’re not wondering will we make it back, if we’ll make it back. We look forward to going back to the Super Bowl.’’

Ground support
Chad Ochocinco has a challenger in the Canadian Football League when it comes to over-the-top touchdown celebrations. Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Arland Bruce was fined by the CFL after his “Off the Wall’’ touchdown celebration/tribute to Michael Jackson. After catching a TD pass in Toronto’s 30-17 win over Hamilton last Wednesday, Bruce stripped off his helmet and shoulder pads and laid in the end zone with his arms crossed in what he said was an attempt to honor the late King of Pop. This is the second time Bruce has been fined by the league. Last year, he donned a Spider-Man mask following a score.

A real trooper
During his time with the Patriots, Larry Izzo raised $600,000 for US military charities with his “Larry-oke’’ karaoke fund-raiser. Even though he is now with the Jets, Izzo said he still plans to hold the event in Boston in 2010. At this point, he doesn’t plan to hold it in 2009. “That’s where Larry-oke belongs,’’ he said. “Boston has been so good with that event and the troops. I can’t see taking that anywhere else.’’

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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