Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why we loved Buddy Ryan

Buddy Ryan never took the Eagles to the Super Bowl, the way Dick Vermeil did.

He didn't win as many games as Andy Reid.

In fact, Ryan never won a single playoff game.

Yet he remains among the most beloved coaches every to step foot in Philly, let alone sit in the hottest seat in town, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The answer is pretty simple.

Buddy Ryan, the master defensive innovator and the man who created the '46'defense, was one of us. He likely would have been just as much at home in the 700 Level of the Vet as pacing the Birds' sideline on that frozen, nasty turf that opposing teams hated.

It's at least in part because his teams - in particular his defense - matched that plastic surface. They were nasty, unforgiving and took no prisoners.

Ryan was a brash swaggart, but he connected with fans because he knew what made us tick.

He referred to his boss, the man who hired him and signed his checks, as "the guy in France." Norman Braman bristled at the reference, but the fans loved it.

Buddy disparaged the replacements brought in when the NFL regulars went on strike, and even belittled front office workers who put the squad together.

That move won him the undying loyalty of his players, and also the fans, working-class, blue collar union folks who lived and died with the Birds.

Buddy Ball was a hit in the neighborhoods.

Perhaps never more so than on Oct. 25, 1987. Two weeks earlier, the hated Dallas Cowboys and their equally hated head coach, Tom Landry, had pummeled the Eagles replacement players during the NFL strike with a squad that contained a lot of regulars. Ryan clearly thought Landry had left his stars in the one-side affair too long, running up the score in the 41-22 blowout.

Buddy Ryan did not forget. Two weeks later he got his revenge in a bizarre situation that was classic Buddy Ryan.

To me, it is the single moment when Buddy Ryan cemented his beloved status with Philly and Eagles fans. The Eagles, with the strike settled and their regulars back in the lineup, were beating the Cowboys as the clock counted down.

But Buddy was not done. He had one final flair in mind, an in-your-face retort to Landry and the Cowboys.

It will forever be known simply as the fake kneel-down.

Instead of running out the clock, Ryan ordered quarterback Randall Cunningham to fake the usual end-of-game maneuver and instead throw a long pass to wideout Mike Quick. Pass interference was called on the play, which caught the Cowboys unaware. On the next play, again instead of running out the clock, Ryan sent Keith Byars crashing into the end zone.

It was Buddy Ryan's personal message to Landry and the Cowboys.

In that moment, Buddy became a Philadelphian. He hated Dallas as much as we did.

RIP, Buddy. Philly still loves you.

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