Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Buddy Ryan Legacy

Horse and Horse's...
Sorry to be late to the party on Buddy Ryan giving up the mortal coil, but so it goes.

To a certain percentage of the Eagle fan base, Ryan is the best coach in the team's history. He did things that we all desperately want our football coach to do -- run up the score on the insufferably self-righteous Tom Landry, unleash four quarters of massive pain and hell on division rivals, knock out quarterbacks to the point where punt returners were taking snaps, and give Randall Cunningham free rein to be the most exciting player in the NFL -- and presided over the greatest defense in franchise history. (From a talent level, that unit was just a little foot speed at safety away from being damn near perfect.) When you watched a Buddy Ryan team, you were clearly and proudly in the presence of someone who hated the other team, and wanted them to die in pain. There's something immensely satisfying about that, honestly.

Ryan belonged to an era of football coaches that will, sadly, never come again. Hiring savants and self-made psychos had a brief vogue in the late '80s / early '90s, with Ryan, Sam Wyche, Jerry Glanville and June Jones all getting shots, and none of them really working out all that well. From a sheer entertainment perspective, all of these guys made for more fun regular season games, though.

A few words about that defense. It has spoiled those who saw it for life. The routine series was a comically inept first down run, a second down pass into the flat that was incomplete or stopped for no gain because it was obvious that the opponent was terrified of the Eagle pass rush, and then a third down scramble into a sack or uncalled grounding, with whatever member of the Hall of Fame level defensive line was closest to the QB getting his dance on. This would happen until the Eagles got a lead and won the game, or until the offense was even worse and exhausted the defense into submission. Any player on the defense could be blitzing at any time, and that, too, satisfied on every level.

It was simultaneously the best and worst time to be an Eagles' fan, because the unit was the most fun ever, and also the worst, because we knew something great was being utterly wasted.

Ryan went to the playoffs three times while the coach, and never won a playoff game. The defeats were jarring, intolerable, and yet entirely predictable, because Ryan in a single game as head coach had the reactive powers of a thrown brick. As an assistant or defensive coordinator, he was in his element, but when given the keys to the whole operation, he was out of his depth.

He was also, of course, famously belligerent and blunt, which people also loved... but the problem with guys like that is that they wear out their welcome. Especially when they do things like refuse to adjust in a playoff loss (Washington just played zone all day, leading to Ryan's hit or mostly miss offense doing squat), or wantonly insult the owner, just because they felt bullet-proof from winning more games than they lost and getting to the playoffs.

If we are to give Ryan credit for finding and developing the Eagle defense, we also have to give him the blame for squandering it. My memories of his era were as much about the losses as the successes, so I've never missed him,even in the worst days of Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid and Nero Kelly. (Speaking of a guy that was basically the Ryan of offense...)

As a final point of Yeah, That Was Buddy, this... Ryan died at age 85. Which was, seemingly, a number that he hid from the NFL, who seemed to have him at 82. And honestly, how did he sneak that past anyone? Dude had to provide a social security number to get paid, didn't he?

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