By Gary B. Graves
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (AP) — Buddy Ryan was remembered not just as a defensive master who won two Super Bowls and spawned a legacy carried on by players and twin sons now coaching in the NFL.
He also motivated players with a gruff but caring approach that helped them succeed on the field and in life. Ryan had his players’ backs no matter how tough and demanding he seemed, a loyalty noted and reciprocated by many of his pupils who traveled far to pay their respects Friday.
“The thing I loved about Buddy is that everybody got the same treatment,” Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary said during a 20-minute eulogy at St. Lawrence Catholic Church that ended with an emotional pause.
“There’s not enough time to go into so many other things that he taught me as a player, as a husband, as a father. But what he did for me I am eternally. … in debt.”
Gratitude was the common theme as former players from several teams Ryan coached said their formal goodbyes to the defensive mastermind, who died Tuesday at 85. Notably present were several members of the 1985 Chicago Bears, who won the Super Bowl thanks to the dominant 46 defense coordinated by Ryan and featured the appearance of head coach Mike Ditka among an impressive group of Hall of Famers.
Also present were the members of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, two NFL teams Ryan led as a head coach. Ryan was also a defensive line and linebackers coach for the 1968 champion New York Jets.
“It was great to see Eagles players along with a lot of Bears, and not just on that ’85 team,” said Gary Fencik, a defensive back on that Bears team and a pall bearer. “There were just so many (guys) that played for Buddy.”
Ryan’s family — including Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan and twin brother Rob, an assistant — and many friends hugged, smiled and took selfies as they no doubt reminisced about the man and success he built.
Judging from the Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers present, it was more like an NFL reunion. And that speaks volumes about Ryan’s legacy.
Besides Ditka, Fencik and Singletary, the Bears contingent included Hall of Fame defensive linemen Richard Dent and Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, Doug Plank and Leslie Frazier, who became a head coach himself. Bears team official Pat McCaskey spoke briefly before Singletary followed with a heartfelt eulogy that touched on Ryan’s loyalty to his players.
Standouts from Ryan’s teams in Philadelphia were there, including Seth Joyner, Eric Allen and Clyde Simmons. Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams, who played under Ryan in Arizona, was among a group of pall bearers who carried Ryan’s wooden casket from a hearse bearing the U.S. Army seal from Ryan’s service during the Korean War.
Singletary said their presence proves how they felt about Ryan’s devotion, and added, “when you look around this room and see all these men, that is the result of a coach that is loyal.”
Ryan was buried in a private ceremony at Lawrenceburg Cemetery. Before the procession pulled away, players mingled with both Rex and Rob Ryan, with discussions of football overheard.
Ryan raised horses on a farm here and Singletary suggested that he might train some up in heaven. On the other hand, McMichael speculated that his former coach wouldn’t be far from his first love.
“I don’t know who the defensive coordinator is on God’s football team up there,” McMichael said, “but he just lost his job.”