Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
Assistant coach delivers media blitz the day after
Originally published Nov. 19, 1985
Buddy Ryan is an acquired taste, like candied catfish eyeballs. The Bears’ defensive coordinator takes some getting used to, like a burr in your shorts.
I asked Mike Singletary yesterday what he thought of Ryan when he first went to work for the guy.
“I didn’t like him,” Mike remembered with a smile. “I thought he had something against me. I thought he was crazy. But I learned very quickly he had the respect of the other guys. I thought: `He can’t be all bad, if he’s got their respect. Maybe I got to work a lot harder, instead of crying all the time.'”
Yesterday, the day after the devastation of Dallas, was an unofficial “Buddy Ryan Appreciation Day” at the Bears’ lair in Lake
Mike Ditka said the obvious, that Buddy’s defensive team had “completely dominated” the Cowboys in Sunday’s 44-0 rout. Buddy was invited to address the media in the weekly press conference. He was completely in character:
He overworked the bleepers of the television and radio crews, using a cuss word in his second sentence as a warmup for figures of speech dealing in castration.
He faulted the team management for failure to sign holdouts Todd Bell and Al Harris.
He said the exact opposite of something his boss, Ditka, would say.
He sniffed at the progress of lineman William Perry, the most popular American discovery since the Cabbage Patch Doll, disclosing Perry’s grades against Dallas weren’t as good as they had been in the previous game.
He conceded cornerback Mike Richardson, who had preceded him to the podium, was having a good season, but he couldn’t remember Mike’s name and called him by his uniform number and a derogatory nickname, “L.A.” (Buddy has called Richardson “L.A.” since Mike committed costly errors in games in Los Angeles and elsewhere on the West Coast in earlier seasons.)
He said there were “a lot of politics involved” in Pro Bowl selections, or Otis Wilson would have been chosen last season.
You get the idea diplomacy is not Buddy’s strong suit. If he were invited to Geneva for the summit with President Reagan, he’d say something blunt about Gorbachev and Soviet missiles would land on us tomorrow.
Ryan’s candor is tolerated because he is a genius at what he does.
Others will say Ryan’s defensive team is the most awesome force in football. Buddy says: “It’s not quite as good as last year. We’re missin’ two All-Pro people.” He means unsigned Bell and Harris. Minutes later, Ditka is asked whether the defense is better than last year’s and replies: “I don’t think there is any question about that.”
Somebody suggests he ask Ryan about that. “I don’t ask him anything,” Ditka replies. “I tell him. He don’t have to listen, but I tell him.”
Such is the curious relationship between the head coach hired by the late George Halas after Halas had rehired Ryan to coach the defense. “We don’t agree on everything,” Buddy says. “But I don’t agree with my wife on everything, either.”
Team president Mike McCaskey and general manager Jerry Vainisi have allowed negotiations to lapse with safety Bell and linebacker Harris. From their viewpoint, the two are best forgotten for this season. But Ryan bugs his superiors about it every time he sees them, reminding them the deadline for signing is Saturday, if the holdouts are to be any help in the playoffs.
Buddy treats all rookies as incompetents until he can break them to his way of doing things. He has the best set of linebackers in the National Football League, but he treated Wilson, Wilber Marshall, even Singletary, as stepchildren when they were rookies.
Now, he pushes Wilson for All-Pro, trusts Marshall with single coverage on wide receivers, and says Singletary ought to be voted the league’s MVP.
Then why so caustic to them as newcomers?
“Buddy wants perfection,” Marshall says.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Atlanta Falcons, who will visit Soldier Field Sunday, and many other NFL teams are praising Ryan to the skies. They have adopted his “46” defense, the blitzing, baffling scheme that looks so risky, yet works so well the way the Bears do it.
Other teams, of course, have reels of film of Bear games. One would think many hours of study would allow them to ape Ryan’s tactics successfully.
But nobody does it as well as the Bears. Why not?
Singletary and safety Gary Fencik say other teams lack the personnel.
“The key to the `46,'” Fencik says, “is having a very strong defensive line and very mobile linebackers. The linebackers are on the line of scrimmage, and have to come back in pass coverage, man-to-man.”
Other teams don’t have linebackers who can play those expanded roles. It is also imperative to have cornerbacks like Richardson and Leslie Frazier, who can cover the best wide receivers alone much of the afternoon.
“The first thing you have to have is pressure,” says Singletary. That is applied to the quarterback not only by the front four, but by blitzing from any point on what often looks like an eight-man line.
Ryan’s continued success prompted more questions yesterday about whether he is ambitious to be a head coach.
“If it comes, fine,” Buddy replied. “I’m not writing letters and frothing at the mouth.”
For the moment, he seems happy just to be frothing at the Bears, keeping them from getting smug about success and going into hibernation before the Super Bowl.