The Buddy System: Forget Brotherly Love

The Washington Post

He gets a big, fat zero for originality, but Buddy Ryan said a mouthful recently when he snarled, "What goes around, comes around."

When Ryan stepped on this Philadelphia Eagle ship a year and a half ago, he didn't do much to steady it. According to Big Bad Buddy, this guy was too fat or that guy was too slow or this guy couldn't block. In his first season, he sent two guys to the Pro Bowl and 12 to the hospital. In training camp alone, four guys said no thanks and quit the team. Ryan gleefully showed them the door.

But look what Buddy Ryan has to show for it now--a relatively happy group of Eagles that come into today's game here with the Washington Redskins with a two-game winning streak. Ryan croons: "I did it my way," which means, "What goes around, comes around."

Slowly and surely, he built a team in his own image, a team that certainly will not finesse you. Suddenly, they're not walking out on him; they're walking with him. And that includes picket lines. During the NFL players strike, Ryan never accepted his replacement team. "These aren't my guys," he'd say. "My guys are walking that line."

Ryan was so supportive of his regular players during the strike that they will do practically anything for him now, including running it up on the Dallas Cowboys.

At one point during the strike, Ryan got a phone call from an unnamed Eagles player who said: "Even the guys who hated you love you now."

Ryan said: "Who hated me?"

Of course, everyone realizes by now that Ryan's bite is just as bad as his bark. What he says gets him in a heap of trouble and what he does gets him in trouble. Who hates him or, at least, should hate him?

Cowboys Coach Tom Landry.

Bears Coach Mike Ditka.

Bears defensive players Dave Duerson and William "the Refrigerator" Perry.

Former Eagles punter Ray Criswell.

Former Eagles runner Earnest Jackson.

Current Eagle owner Norman Braman.

Just to name a few.

Now, it was a game in Dallas on Oct. 11 that prompted Ryan to make his now-famous statement, "What goes around, comes around." That day, Ryan -- who still refers to his replacement team as simply "the scabs" -- lost to the Cowboys, 41-22, and it's the way he lost that unnerved him. The Cowboys, who had had many of their regulars cross the picket line, scored three touchdowns on the first five plays. At halftime, it was 27-10, and that's when Landry decided to insert running back Tony Dorsett and quarterback Danny White.

Ryan didn't mind that so much, but he minded it late in the game when the Eagles had the ball at the Dallas 10, and Landry re-inserted three veteran defensive linemen -- Randy White, Don Smerek and Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

According to Ryan's oldest son, Jimmy, who speaks with his dad often, Ryan is convinced Landry still was mad that the Bears defense--under Ryan in 1985--shut out the Cowboys, 44-0, on national television.

"That was dad's personal best game ever," Jimmy says. "They could've played four more hours, and Dallas never would've scored. I know that was hard for Landry to forget."

Ryan says: "Maybe that (44-0 game) was why he did it, but here I am with a bunch of rag-tag guys who couldn't even wash cars. And he's got half his team there, and we get down to the 10-yard line, and he's already played his front four, and then he puts them back in 1786082164anything. . . . That still burns my butt off."

So he vowed to get Landry back, which is what he did two weeks later with his regular players, who--by now--adored him. Ryan couldn't wait for that second Dallas game. He says he dreamed of being ahead 40-0 and faking a field goal with just seconds left to rub it in Landry's face. All week, in fact, the Eagles practiced fake field goals. At the coin flip, Eagles defensive end Reggie White pointed at Randy White and snarled: "We're gonna get you."

Later, the Eagles led, 30-20, with seconds left in the game. Twice, Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham downed the ball, as if he were letting the clock run out. But then, Ryan called for the bomb.

Tight end John Spagnola--the Eagles player rep who's had his ups and downs with Ryan--apparently felt awful for the Cowboys. As the Eagles approached the line, Spagnola-- according to Dallas linebacker Mike Hegman--warned them: "We're going deep to Mike Quick in the end zone! We're going deep!"

Hegman didn't believe him.

Quick did go deep, and the Cowboys were called for pass interference. With one second on the clock, running back Keith Byars bulled over for the score.

"See, my dad doesn't like Dallas, period," said Jimmy, who's an account executive in Chicago. "When he went to the Eagles, me and my brothers laughed because he'd get to play them twice every year. We knew we'd hate to be an Eagle if they lost twice to Dallas. See, I know dad doesn't like Dallas' finesse philosophy. He loves Randy White, but that's about the only guy he likes on Dallas."

Afterward, Landry said: "It's not anything I would've done. He's got to live with it."

Ryan said: "Oh yeah, I can live with it."

By the way, Ryan pointed out this week that several other NFL coaches have called to applaud him for the Dallas incident. Ryan, who used to coach for Minnesota's Bud Grant, said: "I'm sure Bud enjoyed that thing against Dallas, didn't he?" And he roared with laughter.

In Chicago, a lot of people think Ditka would've done the same thing. In essence, Ditka and Ryan are very much alike. In fact, many Bears hated Ditka at first, just as many Eagles hated Ryan.

The problem between those two was that Ditka, when he became head coach, was ordered by the late George Halas to keep Ryan as defensive coordinator. Ryan had been there under former coach Neill Armstrong, and Bears defenders wrote a group letter to Halas, begging that Ryan stay on. Without him, they said, the defense would be set back five years.

One of those defenders was linebacker Mike Singletary, who-- just like many of the Eagles--initially despised Ryan. In Singletary's first start as a rookie, he called a defensive timeout. Ryan grabbed him and said, "No rookie calls a timeout on my team!" And he benched him.

Ryan used to criticize linebacker Wilber Marshall's toughness, saying: "He's got to stop reaching for his leg every time he gets beat."

He used to criticize linebacker Otis Wilson's intelligence, saying: "He was a rookie for a long time."

Singletary and most of the defense came around, but Ditka never did. The Eagles played the Bears this year, and Ryan had a hard time getting psyched up because it was just a replacement game. He told his son: "Maybe if I see Ditka, I'll get fired up."

Once when Ryan was coaching with the Bears, Ditka went for a fourth-and-one at midfield and failed. Ryan, upset because it put his defense at a disadvantage, walked into the coaches meeting Monday and said: "I've got the perfect play next time you're in that situation."

"Great, what is it?" said a Bears' coach.

Ryan walked up to the chalkboard and drew the punt formation.

Still, after all this, nearly the entire Bears team came to visit Ryan when the Eagles were in Chicago last year. A couple noticable no-shows were Perry, whom Ryan continually called "Fatso," and Duerson. Why Duerson? Well, Duerson had started for Ryan in 1985, but only because Todd Bell held out the entire season. And at the Super Bowl celebration party that year, Ryan went up to Duerson and said: "You know, I'm still trying to get them to sign Todd."

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