Dinner, wine and laughs with Buddy Ryan, who made football fun again


All Buddy wanted was a restaurant with a world-class wine list. That’s what he told former Eagles beat writer Tim Kawakami in September of 1990.

Buddy was in his fifth and what would be his final year as head coach of the Eagles, and Timmy — Buddy’s favorite beat writer — had left the Philadelphia Daily News a few months earlier to join the Los Angeles Times.

As it turned out, the Eagles were scheduled to face the Rams in Los Angeles in late September, and Buddy told the beat guys that we’d all be going out to dinner with him and Timmy the night before the game.

When the head coach tells you you’re going to dinner with him, you don’t question it, you just say yes.

So that’s how it happened that during the week before the Eagles-Rams game on Sept. 23, 1990, at L.A. Coliseum, Kawakami researched restaurants in the Orange County area with the best wine lists.

He consulted with the L.A. Times food critic, he called sommeliers at various highly regarded restaurants, he made a list and painstakingly narrowed it down and decided we’d all be dining at a fancy joint in Anaheim called Mr. Stox, a long-time Anaheim fixture with a vast wine list that would suit Buddy.

So that Saturday, as the beat guys arrived at the hotel, we found Buddy and Timmy in the lobby and a stretch limo parked outside.

Now, ethically, maybe we shouldn’t have all piled into that limo rented by the head coach we were covering. But when Buddy tells you to get into a limo, you get into the limo.

The stories were flowing freely on the ride. I was sitting in the back with Buddy and I remember him calling one former player “brain dead” as he broke up laughing.

We arrived at Mr. Stox and were shown to an elegantly appointed private room in the back, Buddy, Timmy and a dozen Philly Eagles beat guys.

Now, it’s interesting to note that the Eagles, favorites to win the NFC East, were 0-2 going into that Rams game, and there were rumors that with a third straight loss owner Norman Braman would fire him.

He was so worried that he was out at dinner with the beat writers 17 hours before kickoff.

After we all settled in, the wine steward came by with the wine list, which was this enormous bound volume, listing what appeared to be literally thousands of varieties of wine.

We were all curious what Buddy would order, and it grew quiet as Buddy slowly turned the pages of the wine list. None of us realized Buddy was such a wine buff. But he specified to Timmy that he wanted the restaurant in town with the best wine list, and here we were.

Finally, as all eyes stared at Buddy, he spoke to the wine steward.

And this is exactly what he said: “How 'bout a bottle of red and a bottle of white?”

The whole room broke up at the absurdity of it all, and Buddy laughed too, and I don’t remember what happened after that, but it didn’t matter.

This was vintage Buddy Ryan. It didn’t always make sense, but it was funny as hell and fun as hell.

That’s the Buddy Ryan I’ll remember.

The guy who said linebacker Dwayne Jiles looked like a “big, fat washroom woman,” when he reported to minicamp a little out of shape.

The guy who ran a fake kneel-down against the Cowboys just because he hated Tom Landry.

The guy who always had time for the kids lining the stairs where the players and coaches left the training camp practice fields at West Chester.

The guy who would call the Colts “Baltimore” even though they had moved to Indianapolis five years earlier.

The guy who as Oilers defensive coordinator punched Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride at halftime because he wasn’t running the ball enough and his defense was on the field too much.

The guy who before the Rams playoff game in 1989 gave a generic answer to a Rams reporter who asked about stopping Greg Bell, then walked past the Philly guys and said under his breath, “Greg Bell my ass.”

The guy who told a reporter from a small town asking about a local longshot trying to make the team that the kid had survived first cuts because Buddy made him buy a suit for road travel, and he wanted to make sure the kid got to wear it twice before he cut him.

The guy who when Jimmy Johnson said he was “stupid, dumb, short and fat,” responded, “I’m not short.”

The guy who at a press conference that almost cost him his job gave front office exec George Azar a “scab ring,” for building a 1987 replacement game roster that went 0-3.

Buddy was at his best when he was attacking authority, and his open disdain for Braman — “The guy in France” — is what really won over the Philly fans. Buddy was one of us, telling his boss all the stuff that we’ve always wanted to tell our boss.

More than anything, Buddy put the Eagles back on the map. Reggie and Randall and Clyde and Seth and Wes and Andre and that 1988 team won the NFC East after six straight losing seasons, and the Eagles have really been at the forefront of Philly sports ever since.

Buddy Ryan died Tuesday at the age of 85.

He was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. He was an Army sergeant in Korea. He had a Master’s degree. He loved horses. He was remarkably devoted to his wife Joanie during her tragic battle with Alzheimer’s.

More than anything, I’ll remember how Buddy made me laugh. How he made the whole city laugh. How Buddy made football fun again.

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