Buddy Ryan Is Back in Town
Restored as a head coach, this time in Arizona, Buddy Ryan’s got some old friends to reinforce his reputation as a defensive wizard.
Although the San Francisco 49ers had lost only two NFL exhibitions since 1991, they were silenced by Ryan’s 46 defense -- led by his former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons -- in a 17-7 defeat Friday night.
Ryan, hired to lead the Cardinals from their usual position near the bottom of the NFC East, showed the 49ers and the rest of the league exactly what could be in the offing.
First, free agent acquisition Simmons -- like former Eagles teammate Seth Joyner, a follower of Ryan -- plucked a Steve Young pass out of the air for a 5-yard TD interception return in the second quarter.
As if to prove the 46 to those who remained among the doubters, Simmons stopped the 49ers later in the game with another interception. That impressed Young.
“I really had respect for them last year, even when others might not have noticed, but they ought to put Clyde Simmons at defensive back,” Young said. “I’ve run that play a long time and I know that when a guy is charging at me he can’t get his hands up very quickly. So he made a real nice play on that one.”
The Cardinals got six turnovers -- including three interceptions by linemen.
Their play was reminiscent of those plays Ryan defenses made in Chicago, Phialdelphia (where he was head coach from 1986-80) and Houston. In Arizona, that should translate to large crowds -- part of what the Cardinals hoped for by hiring the high-profile Ryan.
They got what they bargained for, a crowd of 61,619 that shattered the previous preseason mark of 51,987 set Aug. 12, 1988 for the first Cardinals’ first appearance ever in the desert. With the exception of a near-sellout 73,025 for the Dallas game, the Friday night crowd was larger than that for any regular-season game in 1993.
Still, Ryan wanted more.
“When I first got here, all the players told me how much they wanted a home-field advantage,” he said. “Well, tonight they had one. That should show you what can happen. Now, we need to sell the place out.”
The Arizona starters held Young to 6-for-9 passing and 63 yards through the second quarter, before he was replaced by former Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac.
“The other team was getting after our butts,” 49ers coach George Seifert said.
Grbac completed 14 of 23 passes for 117 yards, including an 8-yard scoring strike to Ed McCaffrey for the 49ers’ lone score. He led San Francisco on a nine-play, 51-yard drive for the third quarter touchdown.
Ryan said his backups left much to be desired.
“I was pleased with the first unit,” he said. “But you can’t believe how dumb we were on the second unit. But we had a lot of guys out there who hadn’t played before.”
Ryan was swarmed by cameras upon his entrance 30 minutes before kickoff and thousands cheered when his postgame news conference was shown on the video replay board.
The fans enjoyed the defense. So did middle linebacker Garth Jax, playing in place of the injured Eric Hill. Jax recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, pleasing Ryan, who had given him a $20,000 raise a week ago.
“I should have gave him a $40,000 raise,” Ryan said. “He got hurt and had to go back in and play the whole game. If I had 40 of him, I’d win every time.”