DN editorial: The 'other' Buddy Ball
HE NEVER WON a playoff game with the Eagles, but Buddy Ryan won over Eagles fans. James David "Buddy" Ryan, who died Tuesday at age 85, created one of the most feared defenses in the NFL in Gang Green, but perhaps lost amid the well-deserved praise, in the wake of his passing, for his defensive genius is the fact he also helped usher in a new brand of football in the NFL.
HE NEVER WON a playoff game with the Eagles, but Buddy Ryan won over Eagles fans.
James David "Buddy" Ryan, who died Tuesday at age 85, created one of the most feared defenses in the NFL in Gang Green, but perhaps lost amid the well-deserved praise, in the wake of his passing, for his defensive genius is the fact he also helped usher in a new brand of football in the NFL.
Overstating, you say?
Then, let's remind everyone he helped turn quarterback Randall Cunningham into the player whom Sports Illustrated dubbed "The Ultimate Weapon."
In the 1990 season, Cunningham passed for nearly 3,500 yards and rushed for nearly another 1,000 in leading the Birds to a 10-6 record and a wild-card post in the NFC playoffs. For that, he received numerous honors, including Pro Football Writers Association's NFL Offensive MVP and the Maxwell Club's Bert Bell Award.
Ryan once called a potential draft pick a "medical reject," then selected said prospect, Keith Byars, with the Eagles' first pick in the 1986 draft. Byars, it could be argued was among the first so-called H-backs in the NFL. He rushed for nearly 600 yards in his rookie season. In the subsequent four years he played under Ryan, he totaled more receiving yards than rushing yards.
Tight end Keith Jackson was named to three Pro Bowls under Ryan.
OK, maybe Ryan misfired on Cris Carter. He cut the wide receiver after three seasons, because "all he does is catch touchdowns." Ryan's tough-love approach - costly as it was to the Eagles - was designed to help Carter straighten up his act. It worked; Carter turned away from drugs and alcohol, won eight Pro Bowl bids and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has credited Ryan with saving his life.
A "loss" for the Eagles, but a gain for Carter and the NFL.
And then there's the time Ryan ran up the score against the Dallas Cowboys in 1987, when Cunningham faked a kneel-down in the closing seconds, only to step up and lead one final TD drive.
And also the time in 1988 Cunningham added to his highlight reel by eluding the Giants' Carl Banks on Monday Night Football and throwing a strike to tight end Jimmie Giles.
Ryan arrived in Philadelphia after the 1985 NFL season, riding high after his dominant "46" defense with the Chicago Bears throttled the New England Patriots, 46-10.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were coming off their fourth consecutive losing season, and owner Norman Braman promised that his team would soon generate as much excitement on the offensive side of the ball as Buddy's Bears had done on defense.
One of the stories we heard shared in the wake of Ryan's passing was how he had intended to build that an offense, once he had completed the task of building his defense. He was said to be eyeing Philadelphia's own Erik Martin, a tackle out of Bartram High, in the upcoming draft.
However, despite a record of 43-35-1, Braman - "the guy in France," as Eagles fans remember - fired Ryan before that could happen, and Williams went on to have an All-Pro career with the Cowboys. Through Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid - who admittedly, got the Eagles into the Super Bowl - and Chip Kelly, the Eagles have occasionally soared. We'll see with Doug Pederson.
But some of the best Eagles memories are of Buddy Ball - on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Thanks for the memories, Buddy.