IRVING -- A softer, gentler, more politically correct Rob Ryan?
There I was along with the rest of the assembled media waiting with bated breath in the Dallas Cowboys' locker room for the normally visceral, profane and boastful defensive coordinator to go all brother Rex and daddy Buddy for us to help hype Sunday's winner-take-all showdown against the Giants.
What we got was an edgier version of one-day-at-a-time, one-practice-at-a-time Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
Ryan promised a victory of sorts, but even that came with a qualifier, and there were no curse words.
"I'm going there with the utmost confidence. It's real when I tell you my family's already down there," Ryan said. "Yeah, they'll see the Empire State Building and the 9-11 deal and all that, but I know one thing: They're going down there to watch me become a champion again. Hell, it's a costly endeavor, but I want them to be there when we win the East, and I'll probably steal a couple of T-shirts and make sure they get them. If it doesn't work out, I'll be [upset] because everything we've got is in this one."
This was a far cry from the Ryan who caused a stir in training camp when he called the Eagles the all-hype team and guaranteed the Cowboys would kick their butts.
So we switched tactics by asking Ryan about the tiff his brother had with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs after the Giants-Jets game Sunday. Jacobs reportedly walked up to Rex after the game and said "shut up, fat man," resulting in a verbal altercation between the two.
"I'm sure it wasn't just a one-sided thing," Ryan said surprisingly. "I don't want to talk about it. I have great respect for both of them, obviously blood on one of them with Rex. But this Jacobs kid ran for  yards on us. He is a grown man. I look at him. He is gigantic. Let's be honest, those are two guys that love their team, that love who they are. They're vocal leaders of their groups. Sometimes people bang heads. That is life."
That might be life, but this was not life we have grown to know and love with Ryan, who usually talks without a filter and without concern whether his words would end up as bulletin-board material for another team.
Could it be that Ryan has learned to be more politically correct, which is why he has softened his rhetoric and even gotten a largely unnoticeable trim to his hippy-like hairstyle?
"I'm going to do the right thing," Ryan said. "I haven't softened anything. I'm trying to advance the plan, the Dallas Cowboy plan. I believe in this team. I believe in Jason Garrett, our head coach, and everything that he's about. I've learned a hell of a lot from him. It's play smart. Do the right thing on and off the field. Represent America's Team. I got a haircut. Nobody noticed. I'm trying to clean up."
Asked if he was told to tone it down by Garrett, Ryan said, "Nope. I just want to be right. First training camp day, apparently I said too much that first day. I don't hold back. I always say what I feel is the truth, and that's always gotten me a long way. And that's what it is."
Nope. What it mostly is is an example of Ryan's smarts and ultimately a positive sign for the Cowboys going into Sunday's game and for next season. He didn't go to Princeton like Garrett, but he graduated magna cum laude from the school of hard knocks.
And as much as he likes to boast about how good he is and how great his team is, Ryan has common sense. There is no reason to set your team up for failure with trash talk in such an important game with so much on the line.
Remember this is the same Giants team that amassed a season-high 510 yards, including 400 yards passing by quarterback Eli Manning and the aforementioned 101 yards rushing from Jacobs in a 37-34 victory Dec. 11 in Arlington.
It was easily the biggest meltdown by Ryan's defense in what has been a season of choke jobs for the Cowboys. The Giants rallied from a 12-point deficit with two touchdowns in the final 5:41.
Ryan is admittedly embarrassed by the garbage performance of his defense against the Giants. He has simplified his defense and believes the Cowboys have fixed the problems from the previous game. But he is still making no guarantees about shutting down the Giants' attack, just that the Cowboys are excited about the challenge.
"We're going to play our [butt] off, so whatever that's going to be, it is," Ryan said. "They're a very talented group. But it's about us. It's about our guys. It's about everybody in that room, it's our whole team, it's our family, and we're going down there to win. Period. Our guys are excited about it, and we can't wait to play."
Therein lies the reason Cowboys fans should be hopeful of a victory on Sunday.
If Ryan can grow, learn and change, so can his defense, which it needs to do if this trip to New York is going to be the division-title victory party he and his family are claiming it to be.
Just not as loud and profane as normal.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.