By Mike Fisher
DALLAS (105.3 The Fan) – Sports Illustrated’s venerable Peter King wrote on Tuesday morning how in June we’ve lost Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt and now Buddy Ryan and how “July cannot get here fast enough.”
It would be an interesting (if morbid) parlor game to discuss whether or not Buddy Ryan actually belongs in that group of transcendent sports names. But maybe that’s OK because in so many ways, Ryan — a Dallas Cowboys nemesis for so many years who died Tuesday at the age of 82 — was in a class by himself. Or, Dallas fans might argue good-naturedly, was in a “classless’’ by himself.
All football fans know that Ryan was the architect of one of the greatest defenses of all times with the 1985 Chicago Bears. Most are also aware that he was the source of coaching staff in-fighting in Chicago, evidenced famously when Chicago won Super Bowl XX and while the offensive players carried head coach Mike Ditka off the field on their shoulders, the defensive players hoisted the chubby Ryan into the air.
Ryan was both a genius in football and a genius of agitation. You have to be old-school (or have grown up a Vikings fan in Minnesota like I did) to know that he was also a leader as defensive coordinator of the 1970’s Minnesota Vikings “Purple People Eaters.”
But as an agitator? Ryan did it to his own head coach in Chicago and he did it again in Houston when as the defensive coordinator he tried to punch offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride during an Oilers game. … and maybe most of all he was a thorn in the side of everyone and anyone in silver-and-blue — especially Jimmy Johnson.
Nobody wanted to admit this during the first half of the 90s but Jimmy and Buddy were cut from similar cloth. Both have some Oklahoma football ties, both were defensive-minded, and both, truth be told, were bullies of a sort.
In fact, maybe that’s the reason Jimmy conflicted with Ryan: In Buddy, Jimmy had finally met his bullying match. Johnson on Tuesday tweeted that Ryan and Summert were “two of the best’’ and that he “loved Buddy’s approach to the game.’’ Cowboys Nation didn’t think that in the early ’90’s, when Ryan’s teams dominated Dallas’ and did so with so-called “Bounty Bowls,’’ in which Ryan allegedly paid Eagles players to lay out hapless opponents, but Buddy finally met his bullying match.
Ryan went 8-2 against the Cowboys during his time as Eagles head coach but unlike Jimmy, never won a Super Bowl as a head coach. Nevertheless, his impact on the Cowboys spanned generations; Tony Dorsett on Tuesday called him “a defensive mastermind who changed the game’’ and Emmitt Smith added, “He coached some of the best defenses I faced.’’
Buddy’s legacy carries on with his twin sons Rex and Rob (a former Dallas assistant), NFL coaching figures in their own right in with their own outrageous personalities.
Nevertheless there will only ever be one Buddy Ryan.
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