Styles make fights. And as the clock continues to tick down to the Jets-Patriots Monday night prizefight in Foxboro, Mass., Bart Scott was asked to size up the matchup.
"They would be Marvin Hagler: consistent, quiet, professional, respectable and all those things," said the Jets' inside linebacker. "We would be Sugar Ray Leonard: flashy with a lot of substance, a lot of talent and a lot of sparkle."
Hagler and Leonard graced Sports Illustrated's cover on March 30, 1987, with the headline "SHOWDOWN" written above a staredown preceding their April 6 fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for the WBC middleweight championship. In a preview inside the magazine, Rick Reilly wrote: "Leonard has love, but fights for respect. Hagler has respect, but fights for love."
Like Leonard, the Jets will again fight for respect in Week 13. Sure, they advanced to the AFC Championship Game in January and are tied for the league lead in wins as December commences, but the Patriots have captured three championship rings since 2001 and they've won six of the past seven division titles.
"If we play our best and the other team plays their best, we still think we have the advantage," said Scott of a Green & White club that has won two of its three outings against the Patriots since Rex Ryan was hired. "The only thing we can do to guarantee victory is to make sure we play our best football game."
There is some irony to Scott's Hagler-Leonard analogy because the Jets have a lot of Hagler in their DNA. They can brawl and they're the more powerful team that can make your hurt in the trenches. The Jets would love it if the Patriots stood toe to toe, but Brady's bunch has a little Leonard in them. They can frustrate you with their schemes and flurries and then back off before throwing some more quick combinations to capture rounds.
"We're very capable of playing basketball with the athletes we have, but we don't know if they're able to play power football," said Scott of the Patriots. "They have some capable linemen, but they're not a running team. They've been effective a lot because people are scared of them spreading them out so they go lighter personnel and they run the football.
"It's going to be important for us that we can stop the ball with a light box and also get a pass rush, get Brady on the ground and make him have to pick himself up in a cold-weather game. He's the head and if you want the body to fall, you have to cut the head off."
In that magnificent boxing showdown in 1987, Leonard, who had fought one time in five-plus years, surprised onlookers by jumping out fast and frustrating Hagler with his showmanship and refusal to slug it out in the center of the ring. He delivered combinations, moved out of the way, and then, just when it appeared Hagler had him in trouble on the ropes, Leonard let his hands fly and built himself a commanding early lead.
"It's important for us to start fast and get points early in the game. If we can get points early in the game, it changes the style of game we can play on defense," Scott said. "Whenever things are close, then we have to play a little bit more reserved, a little bit more tame, so to speak. If we're able to get a couple of scores early and we're able to stop them on defense, we can start that snowball rolling and by the fourth quarter, that avalanche can hit them and there will be nothing they can do about it."
Hagler continued to stalk Leonard throughout their epic 12 rounds. The Champ, who was born in Newark, N.J., but grew up in Brockton, Mass., and entered the ring with a 62-2-2 mark, had a number of good moments in the middle rounds and rocked the Sugar Man on a few occasions. But Leonard, visibly tired late, willed it out and scored a historic split-decision win over the stronger man.
"I think we're stacked and this team will never be the same again," said Scott of the Jets. "After this year, every guy won't be returning so you have to take advantage of the opportunity you have in front of you."
The 30-year-old Scott, who appeared in two conference championship games during his first eight seasons, believes this is his best opportunity of winning a Super Bowl. A win over the Pats Monday wouldn't equate to a playoff triumph, but it would move the Green & White closer to the AFC's No. 1 seed.
"Statistics tell you that you have a much better chance of winning in the playoffs at home. We want to give our crowd something to cheer for, something special, and you want the road to the Super Bowl to come through New York," said the Madbacker. "You really want to give the fans a treat to come out and show their pride and be able to experience that."
"SHOCKER" was the headline on Sports Illustrated's April 13, 1987 cover as a shot of Leonard's leather was caught tattooing Hagler's face. Hagler was so upset with the highly debated decision that he never fought again and moved to Italy to pursue a movie career. Many thought Hagler had earned a victory but not the late great Jim Murray.
Leonard, the longtime L.A. Times columnist wrote, "didn't just outpoint Hagler, he exposed him. He made him look like a guy chasing a bus. In snowshoes. Marvelous Marvin Hagler should have put stamps on his punches. He kept aiming them at places Sugar Ray had left much earlier in the evening. Sometimes, you expected Hagler to tap the referee on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, did you see a little fellow, about 5-foot-10 with dark hair and a nice smile go by here tonight? I was supposed to fight him but I guess he couldn't make it.' "
The great thing about this Jets team is they can beat you in each and every way. They are a knockout artist, a stalker and an aggressor. But they also are a devastating counterpuncher that can escape trouble off the ropes. The Jets are professional in their approach, but they sparkle as well. They have a diversified attack and have the look of a potential champion.
Murray wrote that the moral of the showdown between Leonard and Hagler was "Never underestimate a man with an obsession." The signature moment is coming for the Jets and they like their chances.
"It's important for us to make sure we're capable of showing up and just being who we are," said Scott, "and see if they're good enough to beat that."