Dan Hampton: ‘There will never be anyone like Buddy Ryan’

SHARE Dan Hampton: ‘There will never be anyone like Buddy Ryan’
SHARE Dan Hampton: ‘There will never be anyone like Buddy Ryan’

Was I a lucky guy, or what?

I played for Lou Holtz, I played for Jimmy Johnson, I played for Mike Ditka. They’re all Hall-of-Fame, incredible coaches, but there will never be anyone like Buddy Ryan.

Anybody who played for Buddy probably says the same thing.

It has been 30 years and we still have a connection with Buddy. My old teammates Gary Fencik and Lenny Walterscheid and I went down to see Buddy on his ranch in Shelbyville, Kentucky, about a month ago. We’d made a habit out of it over the years—to go and see him in May, right around the Kentucky Derby, because he loved the horses. We’d go and have a real nice visit.

He loved it when we came down, too. His caretaker, Debbie, told me that for a week before we got there, when he woke up, he’d look to her and say, “Is today the day?” He just couldn’t wait for us to come.

This last time, Fencik brought the infamous letter that he and Alan Page composed — the one we all signed and sent to George Halas, pleading for him to keep Buddy and his staff in 1981. We read it to him. He was smiling. He had gotten to where he could barely talk, but you could tell by his eyes. He was so excited.

Buddy had had two bouts of cancer, two bouts of chemo, two bouts of radiation, a stroke, had fallen twice. A year ago, the wife of Danny Neal — who played offensive line for the Bears and then coached with Buddy in Philadelphia and Arizona —gave us a big hug. Barb was crying. She thanked us for coming and said: “If you know anyone else who wants to come, tell them to come now. Don’t wait.”

Well, he would tough it out another year and a month after most people didn’t give him a chance.

Just like an old Okie—and I was born in Oklahoma; that was the great affinity we always shared — Buddy was tougher than boot leather.

That’s the thing people don’t realize; great athletes come and go in the NFL. But smart and tough—those are the things Buddy took pride in more than anything else.

If you didn’t want to sell out, if you didn’t want to be tough, if you didn’t want to be smart, if you didn’t want to fly around, Buddy had no use for you. And that was what made it special.

I love to watch golf on TV. Oakmont County Club, where they had the U.S. Open two weeks ago, is maybe the toughest golf course in the world. The person who created it and designed it had a motto: “Let the clumsy, the timid and the alibi artists step aside.”

I started laughing when I heard that. That’s Buddy. That’s exactly the way he ran the defense.

The defense, it was synergy.

Buddy had become world famous for being the architect of the “46’” defense and for the way it destroyed offense after offense with a devastating pass rush.

He had an epiphany when he was the defensive line coach of the New York Jets in 1969. Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank maintained that their No. 1 goal as a team was to protect Joe Namath.

Conversely, then, Buddy would become a quarterback’s worst nightmare.

Starting in 1980, Buddy was toying with the initial concepts of this match-up/blitz concoction with a pedestriangroup of players that were efficient, but not special.

Later, when he started to get Richard Dent and Otis Wilson and Steve McMichael and these others, it was amazing. Katie, bar the door. He morphed us into a record-setting group: nine Pro Bowlers and three Hall of Famers.

God bless Buddy Ryan. God blessed us because we were so lucky to be able to play for him.

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