June 30, 2016 9 Comments
A sad day indeed. I think all of us remember if we’re old enough when pro football was fun. Yeah, we all cared you who won and lost, that’s what competition is all about but we also knew that other things were more important than football. I grew up around Chicago, in Northwest Indiana, and I can remember a bunch of us who played high school football, going down to Rensselaer, Indiana to watch the Bears summer camp. I can also remember Walter Peyton, Sweetness himself, running up and down the dunes at Dunes State Park, in full pads, for hours. If you wonder why his knees held out for all those years, well, a lot of it was conditioning.
But in ’85, as we watched daBears, we had a saying, “If they don’t score, we can’t lose”. We said that because the Bears had quite likely the best defense ever seen, anywhere, and a lot of that was Buddy Ryan. Yep, he had trouble getting along with Ditka. Talk about two strong personalities yoked unwillingly together! But they managed, somehow.
And the lessons they taught, first they taught us to work hard and win, that we had to really want to succeed, and do it right, and with discipline and teamwork. They also taught us to relish the fight and to have fun while we did it. Looking back, there was something very American indeed, about that team, some of them just plain didn’t like each other, but when the ball kicked off, that simply didn’t matter, it was time to play the game, and to win it. A lesson many of us need to learn again. It wouldn’t hurt if we also relearned the lesson about leaving the game on the field.
Buddy died last Tuesday, from cancer, and something in me died with him. When I played the game, I was a defensive tackle, and watching how his teams did it was inspirational.
Oklahoma born and bred, Ryan entered the coaching profession in 1961 with the University of Buffalo following his service in the military. From there, a career as a defensive troubadour began, winding its way through New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and Arizona.
“Without Buddy Ryan … I’m just a guy,” legendary Bears linebacker Mike Singletary said on an ESPN documentary about the 1985 Bears. “He’s someone that you meet, and you think he’s the toughest, meanest guy that you’ll ever meet. But he loves you. He just doesn’t know how to express it. But you know it when he looks at you.”
“There’s no way we win anything without that defense, without his coaching and I think everybody understands that. We won because of our defense, we can never forget that. That’s just the way it was.”
Ryan turned conventional football wisdom on its head early on in his career. He never understood the coddling of NFL quarterbacks, and famously surmised that “a quarterback has never completed a pass when he was flat on his back.” He believed that quarterbacks made too much money, attracted too much attention and acted with an unfair sense of entitlement — and he spent nearly his entire career torturing them.
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey issued the following sentiment:
“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen. He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached. From the day he was hired in 1978, his defenses bought into more than the scheme, they bought into him and took on his personality. Buddy was brash, intelligent and tough. He was a perfect match for our city and team, which is why George Halas took the extraordinary step of keeping him at the behest of his defensive players while transitioning to a new coaching staff in 1982. We will always be grateful for Buddy’s contribution to the Bears. He is one of the team’s all-time greats. Our prayers are with his family.”
So are mine, He was one of the greats, to be associated in our minds forever with the likes of Sweetness, Papa Bear, Ditka, Mike Singletary, and the rest of those guys who we simply loved watching, and you know, we met a surprising number of them, and they were pretty great guys as well. And even more, they gave back to the community, and they had fun through it all.
See your later, Coach, and rest in peace.