A Young Bears Fan’s Tribute to Buddy Ryan

Ryan’s Legacy is one to be remembered, treasured

by Jeffrey C. Lyons | @JeffreyCLyons | Jeff@3PSMag.com

When it was announced that Buddy Ryan had passed, did you think of the 1985 Bears legendary 46 Defense, the fight with Kevin Gilbride, or the bombastic legacy continuing with Rex and Rob?  

I have to admit, I was really too young to fully embrace, enjoy and remember Buddy Ryan as the Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator.  The first real memory I have of Ryan was his legendary feud with Mike Ditka that was highlighted by Ryan choking on a pork chop and being hospitalized in December of 1988, a month after Ditka had his heart attack.  When asked about the incident, Ditka shockingly stated: “I know one thing: It wasn’t a Ditka pork chop because those things are so tender, you can never choke on one.”  The Fog Bowl happened a month later, and the détente was over.

While Ryan and Ditka will always be joined at the hip with those World Champion Bears, there was no love lost between the two.  Yet, they were never as good apart as they were together.  Essentially, Ryan needed Ditka and vice versa.  People don’t always like to admit it, but defenses need their offense to score and offenses need the defense to get them the ball…

However, Buddy Ryan’s legacy and impact on football easily can stand on its own.  The 46 Defense revolutionized the way football was played.  Controlling the line of scrimmage and getting to the quarterback was, and still is, the ultimate weakness to the Bill Walsh West Coast offense (pretty much any offense).  If one looks at the Super Bowl Champions from 1985 going forward, most of them have the common theme of a dominate defense that puts pressure on the offense to protect the quarterback.  

Ryan had learned that getting to the quarterback caused turnovers and hid any issues that a team would have in their secondary.  When facing a Buddy Ryan defense, quarterbacks became gun-shy and got an extreme dose of happy feet.  Rather than looking down the field, they were looking at the line of scrimmage.  All of this happened because of the simple idea of dropping a safety into the box, Doug Plank (number 46), and turning him into more of a linebacker than pass-defender.


The most interesting thing about Ryan’s defensive philosophy is that it was based on trust and believing in each player knew their role/assignment.  If a player overstepped their role or tried to make a play that they did not need to, it was when the 46 Defense was gashed.  This was something hard for the players to understand, but Buddy needed them to not only trust each other, but also that Ryan would put them in the right place to succeed.  He was truly coaching them, using their talent and skills properly, while fitting them into his system.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the love that former players had for Buddy, and we all saw it in the “30 for 30: The ’85 Bears.”  The impact of the players reading Buddy’s letter, their emotions and tears, showed how much they loved their coach.  But, I am going to take this a step further.  During my life in Chicago, I have had a chance to interact and know someone of the ’85 Bears, and I can tell you that anytime a question is asked about that team, each player always finds a way to work Buddy Ryan into the conversation.  He is always there and top of mind.  Ryan not only impacted football, but all of their lives too.  Maybe, that is the best lesson we should all take from Ryan and hope our coaches can have the same impact on their players that he did.

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