Buddy Ryan put the Eagles atop the pro sports franchises in town for good, which is something Jeffrey Lurie ought to give thanks for daily, if not more often.
I moved to Philadelphia from Charlotte in 1983, and even after a year or two here, if you'd ask me to rate the teams in order of fan fervor, I'd have first listed the Phillies, who were winding down from the best decade in the long history of their franchise. After that, I'd have said the Doc-Moses Sixers and the Eagles were just about tied, a little ahead of the Flyers, who still had their '70s Stanley Cup glow.
Back then I knew exactly one guy - a fellow I used to run with, when we both lived in Fairmount, a hospital administrator named Bob - who was a true, green-blooded diehard, the kind of guy who just knew Michael Haddix would blossom behind a better line.
Buddy Ryan changed all that, pretty quickly. Other forces contributed - the advent of sports talk radio, the overall rise of the NFL to the pinnacle of American sport, fueled by gambling, the fact that players like Reggie White and Randall Cunningham were show-stopping talents, regardless of coaching - but it was Buddy who stirred and seasoned and served the stew.
Today, I can't drive more than a mile in any direction from my house in South Jersey without spying a green-painted school bus, tucked out of the way for the summer, sleeping until tailgating season. There is never any doubt, in the sports department where I work or in any such operation within an hour's drive of Philly, that the Eagles are always the Big Story. Every day of minicamp is covered like the Normandy Invasion. Some fans know more about the team's third-round draft pick than they do about their own cousins.
You're free to attribute this to whatever - a case can be made for the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb decade as catalyst, and it certainly nourished the phenomenon - but me, I credit Buddy, mostly. He planted the seed that has grown. And grown. And grown.
As a head coach, he was flawed. It's inconceivable that you can somehow fail to ever win a playoff game with that kind of talent. But Ryan was saddled with Norman Braman, who might have been the worst owner in the history of a franchise that offers quite a bit of competition for that title.