Defensive mastermind and former NFL head coach, Buddy Ryan, passed away today at the age of 82. Throughout a career that spanned stints as defensive coordinator and head coach variously for the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals, Ryan was heralded as a defensive genius. His schemes and strategies to attack the opposing quarterback are the stuff of legends and many of the most popular contemporary defensive game plans are built off groundwork Ryan laid out. Ryan’s perfection of the “46” defense is largely considered the catalyst that propelled the Chicago Bears to the 1986 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.
“He was a special guy,” Mike Ditka told Bob Papa and Solomon Wilcots on the Opening Drive Tuesday after learning that Ryan had passed away at the age of 82. Ditka, of course, was the head coach of that legendary Bears team and bore first-hand witness to the power and capability of that Ryan 46 defense. “The ‘85 Bears would have been nothing without that defense. That defense was our football team,” said Ditka when prompted about the impact Ryan had on that championship team.
“The ‘85 Bears would have been nothing without that defense. That defense was our football team.” -Mike Ditka on Buddy Ryan’s defense
Staking two Super Bowl victories to his name, he also was the linebackers coach on that famous New York Jets team that upset the Baltimore Colts in 1968. Ryan’s innovative 46 could be considered, along with the emergence of the ferocious Lawrence Taylor, as the catalyst for the NFL evolution into a more spread-oriented offense versus the, at the time, customary play-action passing game. The scheme’s off-balance lineup built around overwhelming the offensive line’s weakside led to countless sleepless nights for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators alike. Ryan’s legacy with the 46 may have diminished as the game evolved throughout the subsequent decades into the pass-happy schemes we see nowadays; but Ryan’s true legacy may have been imparting his defensive mind into his two sons, Rex and Rob Ryan.
Rex Ryan, the mouthy, boisterous head coach of the Buffalo Bills and his brother Rob Ryan, currently the defensive coordinator for the Bills, have both been instrumental in their own right with pushing the game’s evolution forward through sophisticated defenses that have no fear of being as smash-mouth as possible as well. Much of that ability comes from the acumen and knowledge that their father imparted on them about how the game of football is played and it is this legacy of generational knowledge that Buddy Ryan has created, as much as his on-field and locker room contributions, that make the man and the league what it is.
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