Remembering Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan

Defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan never won a playoff game with the Eagles. But he was beloved in Philadelphia anyway because of his attitude.

Randall Cunningham, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles talks with head coach Buddy Ryan during a light training session, Aug. 5, 1989, at London's Wembley Stadium where they will take on the Cleveland Browns for the 1989 American Bowl. (AP Photo/Gillian Allen)

Randall Cunningham, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles talks with head coach Buddy Ryan during a light training session, Aug. 5th, 1989. | Photo by Gillian Allen/AP

Buddy Ryan, the Eagles coach who built one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, has died. He was 85.

Ryan coached the Eagles for five seasons, winning one division title and making the playoffs three times. He never won a playoff game, but he is beloved in Philadelphia.

Take the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the most hated team of Eagles fans. In 1987, with the Eagles about to win the game, Ryan faked a kneeldown and had Randall Cunningham throw a long pass downfield. On the next play, the last one of the game, the Eagles scored a meaningless touchdown to run up the score. It was in retaliation for Cowboys coach Tom Landry using players who crossed the picket line against the Eagles’ replacements earlier in the season.

Two years later, Ryan allegedly put a bounty on Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas and quarterback Troy Aikman. After the Eagles won, 27-0, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson fumed: “I have absolutely no respect for the way they played the game. I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn’t stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room.”

Buddy’s reply: “I resent that. I’ve been on a diet, I lost a couple of pounds, and I thought I was looking good.” Ryan was a master of quips. He once said a certain flameout of a player was useful “if you want someone to stand around and kill the grass.” After he was fired for three straight losses in the team’s first playoff game, Ryan had one thing to say: “I’ve been fired before, but usually it’s for losing.”

But it was on the defensive side where Ryan made his mark. He was the architect of the “46” defense of the 1985 Bears, a team that won the Super Bowl in a rout. His Eagles defense stuck fear into opposing teams. What was basically his defense, the season after he was fired, is considered one of the greatest in NFL history.

“A quarterback has never completed a pass when he was flat on his back,” Ryan wrote in a playbook. “We must hit the QB hard and often. QB’s are over-paid, over-rated, pompous bastards that must be punished.”

He was also a guy who liked to bend the rules to his advantage. He had a play that put 14 defenders on the field. The idea was to stop the offense at the goal line late in the game as the clock ran down, while acquiring penalties that only moved the ball forward a few feet. Once there were only a few seconds left, his defense would only need to stop the offense one time.

Ryan left on acrimonious terms, and later punched offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sideline while with the Houston Oilers. What can you say? Like his sons, Rex and Rob, Buddy was not the best football coach of all time. But he was someone who made the game interesting and fun. He will be missed.

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