Buddy Ryan helped make Philadelphia a football town


Buddy Ryan made me an Eagles fan again.

When he was named Eagles head coach in January 1986, I was only 13. Sure, I'd rooted for the Eagles, but after the 1982 strike and departure of Dick Vermeil, they plummeted under Marion Campbell.

In the Swamp Fox's three seasons, the Eagles went 18-29-1. Yeah, it was only three seasons of losing, but when you're a kid, three years is an eternity. 

Then Buddy Ball came to town. The raucous Ryan, who died Tuesday morning at the age of 85, brought a new breed of football to Philly. I remember those teams like they played yesterday.

Like Buddy, many of his key players can be recalled by their first name:

Randall, Reggie, Jerome, Seth, Clyde, Byron, Andre, Wes, Eric, Freddie, Calvin. 

Certain games had their own names too:

The Fog Bowl. The Bounty Bowl. The Body Bag Game. The House of Pain Game. 

Yeah, the last one came the season after Ryan had been fired, but it was still his team. The attitude and persona of the defense was all Ryan. It just so happened that another Bud — Carson — had reined in Ryan's famed 46 defense and perfected it to the point where it earned the label "1-1-1." 

First against the run, first against the pass and first overall.

That's the thing with Buddy. His team reached its pinnacle without him. Buddy deserves a ton of credit for reviving the Eagles in their own town. His teams are perhaps more beloved than the two that reached the Super Bowl.

But he never won a playoff game in Philadelphia. 

After winning a total of 12 games in his first two seasons, Ryan won 31 in his final three. But they lost in the playoffs each time. They lost the Fog Bowl at Chicago in 1988 and were beaten soundly at the Vet by the Rams and Redskins the next two years.

I remember those dismal playoff losses like they were yesterday. Rams 21, Eagles 7. Redskins 20, Eagles 6.

Ryan banked on his defense and a couple of big plays from Randall. It worked in the regular season. Didn't in the playoffs. 

When Ryan was fired, I was a freshman at Colgate University. In my first-ever column in The Colgate Maroon, I wrote how firing Buddy was the right move, that for all he accomplished, he hadn't delivered when it counted most. 

The next week, another student from Philly blasted me in a letter to the editor three times the length of my story. 

I got to the office to put the paper together, and it was hanging on the wall. I'd struck a chord with somebody. From what I recall, he ripped me for not appreciating what Ryan had brought to Philadelphia. Never mind those playoff defeats. This was Buddy Ryan.

Two seasons later, under Carson and head coach Rich Kotite, the Eagles finally won their first playoff game since their Super Bowl season by rallying to beat the Saints at the Superdome. 

(The aforementioned 1-1-1 team went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs, having played several forgettable but unforgettable no-names at QB — Brad Goebel, Pat Ryan — after losing Cunningham and Jim McMahon to injury.)

Kotite won a playoff game but is one of the most ridiculed coaches in team history. Ryan never won a playoff game and is one of the most revered. More popular than Vermeil or Andy Reid, the only coaches to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

That's all you need to know about Buddy. He was a legend and an icon and a tremendous football coach.

The players loved him because he had their backs. Especially against "the guy in France," as Buddy called then-owner Norman Braman. Of course, that's not to say he wasn't critical of them. He once said he'd trade running back Earnest Jackson "for a six-pack, and it wouldn't even have to be cold."

The fans loved him because he brought them not just a winner (remember, forget the playoffs) but also a flamboyant and angry defense that personified Philly. Perhaps the most famous of his countless quotes came when he was introduced as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and proclaimed, "You've got a winner in town."

The media loved him because of quotes like that and stories like this

Remember him the way that incensed student who wrote the letter did. 

As Ray Didinger mentioned this morning, the fact that the Eagles own this town can be traced back to Buddy. 

Before then, it belonged to the Phillies, who were World Series winners in 1980. But since then, it's been all Eagles. 

Thanks to Buddy. 

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