The NFL lost a colorful character on Tuesday.
Buddy Ryan was so controversial that no one seems to agree on his age.
There’s no debate, however, about the mark Ryan made in the NFL as a defensive innovator. He was the architect of the famed ’46’ defense that was designed to bring more pass rushers than an offensive line could block. Never did that defense work better than in 1985, when the Bears went 15-1 and won Super Bowl XX in one of the most dominating seasons in NFL history.
The montage of Buddy Ryan memories includes moments on the field, off the field and on the sidelines.
No. 8: ‘All he does is catch touchdowns’
Buddy Ryan was remembered for his quotes as much as he was for his histrionics. He could be funny, sometimes unintentionally.
When Ryan cut Cris Carter from the Eagles in 1990, he said it was because “all he does is catch touchdowns.”
After two years with the Eagles Carter went to Minnesota and caught 1,101 passes and 130 touchdowns, fourth all-time in both categories, in a Hall of Fame career.
Ryan never lived down that quote, but he was the only NFL coach who Carter mentioned during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2013. Carter had been dealing with off-field issues at the time, but he straightened out after Ryan cut him, and he thanked Ryan in his speech.
No. 7: Halftime confrontation with Mike Ditka
The Chicago Bears, fueled by Buddy Ryan’s famed ’46’ defense, were almost unbeatable in 1985.
Dan Marino and the Dolphins were the only team that could solve that defense. They beat the 12-0 Bears 38-24 on a Monday Night Football game in Miami.
The Bears trailed 31-10 at halftime, and late in the first half head coach Mike Ditka began arguing with the defensive coordinator he was forced to retain when he was hired three years earlier. It almost came to blows in the locker room at halftime.
This would have been higher on the list, and it would have made one heck of a story, if they actually did fight. Of course, sideline violence between coaches would never actually happen, would it?
No. 6: The Body Bag Game
It shouldn’t be surprising that Buddy Ryan played a central role in a game so memorable that it’s named.
Before a Monday Night Football game against the Redskins in 1990, Ryan said that the Eagles would beat the Redskins so badly that players would be carried off in “body bags.”
While there were no deaths reported, nine Redskins players left the game with injuries. Washington came into the game without quarterback Mark Rypien, and injuries to Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries forced rookie running back Brian Mitchell to play quarterback.
The Eagles scored two defensive touchdowns and won the game 28-14. While the injury toll backed Ryan’s pre-game bravado, the Redskins responded when it mattered most, beating the Eagles 20-6 at Philadelphia in a wild-card game that year.
That dropped Ryan’s playoff record to 0-3 in five seasons as Eagles coach, and he was fired days later.
No. 5: The Fake Kneel-Down
Buddy Ryan thought that the Cowboys had run up the score on his Eagles during a game in which replacement players were used during the 1987 players’ strike.
Cowboys veterans such as Tony Dorsett and Randy White crossed the picket line and were still in the game even though the Cowboys had a commanding lead.
The Cowboys won that Week 5 game 41-22 but visited Philadelphia two weeks later, after the strike ended. The Eagles led 30-20 in the finals seconds, when Randall Cunningham faked a kneel-down and attempted a deep pass to Mike Quick that induced a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Keith Byars scored from a yard out to give the Eagles their 37-20 margin of victory.
Ryan wasn’t afraid to admit after the game that this was payback for what happened two weeks earlier.
No. 4: Super Bowl III
Joe Namath’s guarantee might never have come true if it weren’t for Buddy Ryan.
I don’t remember a guy on our championship Jets team that didn’t have respect, and a positive emotional connection with DL coach Buddy Ryan.
— Joe Namath (@RealJoeNamath) June 28, 2016
Ryan’s first coaching gig in the NFL came in 1968 when Weeb Ewbank hired him as defensive line coach of the Jets, working under defensive coordinator Walt Michaels.
The Jets led the AFL in overall defense and rushing defense that year. Over in the NFL, the Colts were second with 402 points scored. The Jets, however, shut them out for more than 56 minutes in Super Bowl III, stunning the Colts 16-7.
The tale of Super Bowl III has been all about Namath, but Ryan had a hand in the game that brought credibility to the AFL and ultimately led to the merger and the NFL as we know it today.
No. 3: Bounty Bowl
Buddy Ryan might not have won any playoff games as Eagles coach, but he got under the skin of both Super Bowl-winning Cowboys coaches. That counts for something.
The Cowboys were in the midst of a 1-15 season in Jimmy Johnson’s first year as head coach and lost 27-0 to the Eagles on Thanksgiving. Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas was cut by Ryan weeks earlier. Ryan said Zendejas couldn’t kick. The kicker shot back, saying Ryan couldn’t coach.
On the second-half kickoff of their holiday meeting, Eagles linebacker Jesse Small pancaked Zendejas. After the game, Johnson claimed that the Eagles had a $200 bounty on Zendejas and a $500 on rookie quarterback Troy Aikman. Johnson said he wanted to talk to Ryan about it after the game, but that “he put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a memorable Buddy Ryan moment without a little humor. Ryan responded to Johnson by saying “I resent that. I’ve been on a diet.”
No. 2: Super Bowl XX
Fittingly, the Bears and their ’46’ defense crushed the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX following the 1985 season, and Ryan became the only assistant coach to be carried off the field after a Super Bowl.
The Bears hired Ryan as defensive coordinator in 1978 after he ran the Vikings’ Purple People Eaters defensive line. When Mike Ditka was hired as Bears head coach in 1982, Bears defensive players petitioned to keep Ryan on the staff. When Ryan announced the night before the Super Bowl that he was hired as Eagles head coach and Super Bowl XX would be his last game as Bears defensive coordinator, a film projector, a chair and a chalkboard all were damaged in the meeting room. And the next day the Bears pretty much did the same thing to the Patriots.
Ryan’s defense held the Patriots to seven rushing yards and 123 total yards. It was Ryan’s finest hour. A moment of glory like this would be No. 1 on most “memorable moments” lists. But this is the bombastic Buddy Ryan.
No. 1: Punching Kevin Gilbride
These weren’t the “Luv Ya Blue” Houston Oilers of the late 1970s. There wasn’t a lot of love between defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Ryan wasn’t fond of the Oilers’ “Run and Shoot” offense, labeling it the “Chuck and Duck.” The conflict reached a tipping point on national TV.
The Oilers led the Jets 14-0 late in the first half of the 1993 regular-season finale. Instead of running out the clock, Gilbride called a pass play and quarterback Cody Carlson fumbled. Not happy about having to put his defense back on the field, Ryan had some words for Gilbride and punched him on the sideline.
In the aftermath of the incident, Ryan said that Gilbride would be selling insurance within two years.
Here’s what did happen within two years. Ryan coached the Arizona Cardinals to a 4-12 record. He was fired after going 12-20 in two years and his coaching career was over.
Meanwhile, Gilbride’s career as an insurance salesman never quite got off the ground. He became head coach of the Chargers in 1997 and was offensive coordinator for Super Bowl-winning Giants teams in 2007 and 2011.
The infamous punch ultimately did more damage to Ryan than Gilbride, but Gilbride never was carried off the field.