As most pro football aficionados know, New York Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick designed a memorable game plan for Super Bowl XXV.
His strategy that day slowed the high-flying Buffalo Bills offense and resulted in a 20-19 New York upset.
Those same aficionados may not know that a similarly impressive defensive game plan was used years before in a title game.
In Super Bowl III, the prolific offense of the 1968 Baltimore Colts was held to just seven points by the upstart New York Jets.
New York’s defensive line coach that year was Buddy Ryan.
Coaching legend Buddy Ryan
January 12, 1969:
Super Bowl III,#Jets Defensive Line Coach
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 12, 2023
Ryan continued to hone his defensive strategies with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears.
While with Chicago, he designed the “46 Defense” that helped the Bears win their own world title.
In nearly four decades as a coach, Ryan became known as a master craftsman of defensive football while also ruffling a few feathers.
He wasn’t one to hide his feelings, but those who played for Ryan were devoted to him until the end.
This is the story of Buddy Ryan.
Early Life in Oklahoma
James David “Buddy” Ryan was born on February 17, 1931, in Frederick, Oklahoma.
February 17, 1931: Korean War Veteran Buddy Ryan is born in Frederick, Oklahoma. Eagles Head Coach, 1986–1990.
He is the father of twins Rex and Rob Ryan who have both been coaches in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/l85jN3ybqn
— Dan (@Mrstanleycup) February 17, 2019
During his prep years, Ryan played football and baseball and was known to use some of his gridiron tactics on the diamond.
In an attempt to break up a double play during a baseball game one day, Ryan slammed into a player on the opposing team.
He not only broke up the play, but Ryan also broke the collarbone of the player.
In response to the crowd’s angry shouts, Ryan responded with a middle finger extended, nearly resulting in a spirited fracas.
As he was finishing high school, Ryan joined the National Guard along with some of his buddies so he could earn an extra $10 per week.
Ryan’s father warned his son that, if a war should start, Ryan’s Guard unit would be one of the first to deploy.
Buddy didn’t listen to his dad and got a job paving highways after graduating from high school.
Although it was tough work, Ryan enjoyed the job and was paid well.
Then, the Korean War began, and sure enough, Ryan’s National Guard unit was mobilized.
Initially, Ryan didn’t report for duty. However, when a number of Military Police showed up at the Ryan family’s doorstep, he reluctantly went.
“I pulled KP almost every day,” Ryan said years later. “My attitude wasn’t exactly what it ought to be.”
Forged on the Battlefield
After basic training, Ryan was shipped off to Korea and arrived at the front lines on Christmas Day, 1951.
That was when he decided he needed to change his attitude.
“I (decided I) would be the best soldier I could be. I led by natural ability, even though I didn’t know it,” he said.
During his time in Korea, Ryan had several close encounters with the enemy.
Once, during a snowstorm, Ryan was on patrol when he literally bumped into a Chinese soldier.
Each man pulled the trigger on his weapon, but the cold prevented a shot from being fired.
Another time, a supposedly dead enemy soldier suddenly raised up and pointed his rifle at a medic.
Reacting quickly, Ryan shot the man at point-blank range.
Several of Ryan’s friends died during the war, but many in his unit came to trust him completely.
According to many of the soldiers who served alongside Ryan, he never seemed to let the horrors of war get to him.
Whenever superior officers asked for volunteers to go on a night patrol, nobody raised a hand unless Ryan volunteered.
“There was something about dad that, even back then, men were drawn to,” Rex Ryan said in 2016.
His leadership soon earned Ryan a promotion from private to sergeant.
— Larry in Missouri (@LarryInMissouri) June 29, 2016
It also became evident that he wasn’t one to take any bull from anyone.
If he wasn’t on the front lines, Ryan could be found in bars where he instigated a number of epic brawls.
Ryan Plays for Oklahoma A&M
While he was in the military, Ryan played football for an Army base team as an offensive lineman.
Then, when his service time ended and he returned to the States, Ryan joined the football team at Oklahoma A&M University (now known as Oklahoma State University).
— Kyle Fredrickson (@kylefredrickson) June 28, 2016
Between 1953 and 1955, Ryan played for coaches J.B. Whitworth and then Cliff Speegle.
The Cowboys’ best record during that time was a seven-win season in 1953 that earned A&M a tie for the Missouri Conference championship.
Regardless of record, Ryan was an outstanding player and lettered every year.
Oklahoma A&M, Offensive Line 1952-1955 pic.twitter.com/2eJSKwTXSg
— Random College Athletes (@RandomAthletess) December 21, 2022
During Christmas break of his junior year, Ryan married his first wife, Doris, and quickly turned his life around.
The slacker who was barely getting by had suddenly become an Academic All-American with the help of his studious new bride.
He then spent part of his senior year preparing to become a coach after he graduated from college.
Part of Ryan’s preparation was spent watching legendary Cowboys basketball coach Hank Iba during practices.
That’s where Ryan learned the coaching style that he used for the rest of his life.
“Learning how to tear down a player with one sentence,” Ryan said years later. “That’s what coaching’s all about. Embarrass ’em. Beat ’em down. Then bring ’em back.”
Ryan Begins His Coaching Career
Shortly after graduating from college, Ryan got a job as an assistant coach at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Texas.
While coaching and teaching at the school, Ryan also obtained a master’s degree.
— NFL SportMag (@NFLSportMag) June 28, 2016
In 1959, he was promoted to head coach and athletic director at Gainesville.
The school held an assembly to officially introduce Ryan. He used the moment to tell the crowd his intentions.
“I don’t know who’s running this place,” he told the school, “but in two years, I will be.”
Halfway through Ryan’s first year in charge of the athletics department, Gainesville’s principal, Jim Campbell, realized that his coach spent the entire athletics budget on the football team.
In fact, there was no money left over for the school’s other teams, including the track team that was consistently one of the state’s best.
When Campbell confronted him, Ryan got upset and received a lesson about the hierarchy of high school athletics.
“He (Ryan) said, ‘Let’s go to the superintendent’s office and see who’s running this sonofabitch.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ See, he didn’t know about power yet,” laughed Campbell in 1994. “He didn’t know that the track coach who had no funds left was the friend of the superintendent.”
Ryan was fired after that year, despite protests from the football players.
He then coached for one year as an assistant at Marshall High School in Texas.
The Jets Hire Ryan
For the next several years, Ryan worked as a defensive line coach for the University of Buffalo, the University of the Pacific, and Vanderbilt.
While at Buffalo, Ryan’s defense became one of the top ten in the nation against the run.
At each stop, Ryan used the technique that he observed from Hank Iba and would tear into his players before building them back up.
Although many in his charge initially loathed Ryan, many came to love him.
“Definitely, he had an unbelievable touch with players,” Rob Ryan said about his father. “He could get a dead man to charge twice.”
After the 1967 college season, the staff at Vanderbilt was fired along with Ryan.
Gerry Philbin, one of his former athletes at the University of Buffalo, was now playing for the New York Jets.
— The Sporting News Archives (@sportsphotos) July 14, 2016
Philbin talked Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank into hiring Ryan and Ewbank relented, but he only gave Ryan a one-year contract.
New York Wins the Super Bowl
The timing couldn’t have been better.
Once Ryan arrived in New York, he carefully studied how Ewbank worked with Joe Namath, the Jets’ star quarterback.
Inspired by the planning Ewbank put into protecting his quarterback, Ryan looked for ways to circumvent that protection with his defense.
“He thought Weeb Ewbank was years ahead of his time in the passing game,” said Rob Ryan. “So Dad’s philosophy was, if you’re spending that much time protecting your quarterback, then I’m going to spend that much time getting to him. That’s how he established ‘I’m covering after your quarterback.’”
As New York’s defensive line coach, Ryan gave his athletes one primary mission.
“… quarterbacks are overrated, pompous bastards and must be punished,” he said.
In 1968, the Jets’ defense was ranked fourth overall. Ryan whipped Philbin, Verlon Biggs, John Elliott, and his other linemen into a frenzy.
“I’ve never seen anyone better at bringing the animal out of you,” remarked Philbin in 1994. “If you didn’t hit as hard as he wanted, he’d humiliate you in front of everyone. Guys like me loved him, though. He was just so brutally honest.”
With an 11-3 regular season record, the Jets defeated the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship game before facing the big, bad Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Before the title game, Namath predicted that New York would win.
50 years ago today, Joe Namath delivers on the most famous guarantee in sports history as the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III. pic.twitter.com/NtTmonPM79
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) January 13, 2019
Many of the media laughed as the Colts were favored by nearly 20 points.
The laughter quickly stopped once the contest began.
Ryan’s defensive line was relentless and harassed Baltimore quarterbacks Earl Morrall and Johnny Unitas into throwing four interceptions.
The Jets’ defense kept the Colts from scoring until just three minutes remained.
— PK Ripper 🤜💥🤛🏾 (@amaze652) June 28, 2016
Super Bowl III ended with a lopsided, 16-7, New York victory.
Ryan and the “Purple People Eaters”
Ryan’s one-year deal turned into a more lengthy stay after 1968.
“Never had to reprimand him,” Ewbank later stated about working with Ryan. “Everybody on our staff loved him. But I’ll tell you, I never thought I’d see a hair dryer in a football locker room till I saw Buddy using one.”
He would remain in New York for seven more years, even outlasting Ewbank.
In 1976, Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant hired Ryan to be his defensive line coach.
That same year, Minnesota’s defense went from the NFL’s third-best in 1975 to second-best in 1976.
This week's Blast From MN Sports Past: Buddy Ryan
Famed architect of 85 Bears defense, Ryan spent 1976 and 1977 seasons as Defensive Line coach for Vikings under Bud Grant, helping them to Super Bowl XI & 1977 NFC Championship game.
Won Super Bowls w/ Jets (III) and Bears (XX) pic.twitter.com/NY7y0dAUzT
— Nate Tykwinski (@natetykwinski) June 13, 2019
Those four comprised part of the Vikings’ fabled “Purple People Eaters” defense.
Much like he had in his first year with the Jets, in Ryan’s first year with the Vikings, the team made it to a title game.
However, in Super Bowl XI, the Oakland Raiders ran over and through the Purple People Eaters for a 32-14 victory.
A year later, the Vikings went 9-5 and lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the Conference Championship game.
Chicago Hires Ryan
Before the 1978 NFL season, new Chicago Bears head coach Neill Armstrong hired Ryan to be his defensive coordinator.
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) August 19, 2016
Alan Page became a Bear that same year, and along with Jim Osborne and defensive backs Doug Plank and Gary Fencik became the backbone of Ryan’s unit.
In 1979, the Bears drafted Arkansas defensive lineman Dan Hampton as the fourth overall pick in the draft.
The Bears’ defense improved from ninth overall in ’78 to third overall in 1979.
Chicago also went to the playoffs with ten wins but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round.
During the next few years, Chicago would not return to the postseason under Armstrong.
However, Ryan kept building his defense, and the unit added linebackers Otis Wilson in 1980 and Mike Singletary in 1981.
Chicago also drafted defensive backs Jeff Fisher and Leslie Frazier in 1981 and signed former New England defensive tackle Steve McMichael.
The Bears Keep Ryan
By the end of the ’81 season, it was apparent that Armstrong was not the right fit for the organization.
Ryan, on the other hand, was a favorite of the defensive players.
Even though he rode them hard, especially rookies like Singletary, the members of the defense came to embrace their coordinator as his former players had.
“He called us by our numbers. It was an impersonal thing until you proved yourself,” Hampton said. “He didn’t break you down; he hit you across the head with this overarching theme that, no matter what, the defense, the team, was the most important thing. Not sacks, not interceptions—the team. Once you realized that and subjugated yourself to that, you were forever and a day Buddy Ryan’s team.”
In the winter of ’81, Armstrong was fired, but Page, Fencik, and several other Bears wrote team owner George Halas a letter asking for him to keep Ryan.
On December 9th 1981, #Bears players wrote George Halas a letter asking the team to keep Buddy Ryan.
Here it is. pic.twitter.com/a38tw7Qv79
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) June 28, 2016
Halas was so moved by the gesture that he told new coach Mike Ditka that Ryan was staying as Ditka’s defensive coordinator.
The “46” Defense
At one point during his tenure with Armstrong, the Bears’ defense was playing flat. Ryan had had enough.
Going back to the drawing board, he moved Plank from free safety to linebacker to take advantage of the player’s athleticism.
Ryan called this new look defense the “46” after Plank’s number.
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) March 4, 2014
The beauty of the defense wasn’t just Plank’s ability to play multiple positions, but what the defense could do from the 46.
“His defense was just so much fun to play,” said Plank in 1994. “Something like 20 different coverages, 13 fronts, anywhere from five to eight guys blitzing from every possible angle, and most of it based on sight adjustments and decisions we had to make after the snap. You never felt like robots playing his defense. You had to think. He gave us a stake in it.”
Ryan’s new toy rattled offenses and made everyone believe in his ability to coach defensive football.
“The 46 was the first time people actually attacked protections,” Rob Ryan said. “That was part of his attack. He really majored in the 46 defense, invented as the nickel defense.”
Part of the defense included specialty blitzes for certain players.
For example, the “Taco Bell Blitz” was named after defensive back Todd Bell and defensive end Al “The Destroyer” Harris also had a blitz named after him.
“The only thing I’ve seen him destroy is a cheeseburger,” Buddy snarled (although he liked Harris).
Thereafter, the “Cheeseburger Blitz” was deployed for Harris.
Chicago Begins to Build
By Ditka’s second year with the team in 1983, Plank was no longer with the Bears, but Ryan continued to develop the 46 defense.
The 46 Defense, created by Buddy Ryan and named for Doug Plank, had two goals:
1. Stop the run.
— John Torrey (@mistertorrey) January 18, 2020
In the 1983 NFL Draft, the Bears took Tennessee State defensive end Richard Dent and also added cornerback Mike Richardson.
In one year, the Bears went from three to eight wins and the defense improved from 13th to fifth in the NFL.
The Bears were back in the playoffs in 1984 after a 10-6 season.
“The bigger they are, the harder they hit,” reminisced Rob Ryan about his father. “He loved hitting those quarterbacks with his big linebackers.”
Although his players were used to Ryan’s gruff demeanor, he still found ways to motivate them.
Before a contest against the St. Louis Cardinals and their big back, Ottis Anderson, Ryan called out linebacker Otis Wilson.
“Big O, you might oughta pull a muscle this week,” said Ryan. “This guy O.J. Anderson’s just too tough. You might make Pro Bowl if you just sit out this one game.”
Incensed, Wilson and his fellow defenders took the field by storm and shut down Anderson and the Cardinals.
As talented as the 1984 Bears were, they couldn’t get past the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game and were blanked, 23-0.
The Bears vowed that they would not let that happen again in 1985.
In the ’85 draft, Chicago selected Clemson’s William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who tipped the scales at a smooth 332 pounds on his 6’2″ frame.
In 1985, the Bears were fully loaded on both sides of the ball.
@dallascowboys 🆚 @ChicagoBears 1985
Buddy Ryan wouldn't let up and wanted to humiliate Landry for some reason. Ditka, Landry's ex-player, tried to apologize after the game but all The Hat said was "you guys are good, you guys are really good" and walked away. pic.twitter.com/enXuVnB8SM
— Paul Howard (@PaulHoward_IMIT) October 5, 2022
The defense included Hampton, Dent, McMichael, Perry, Singletary, Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Ron Rivera, Richardson, Frazier, Dave Duerson, Fencik, and Shaun Gayle.
Deploying the “46” in full force, the defense was the top-ranked unit in the league and allowed only 198 total points for the year.
“Some say the 46 is just an eight-man front,” said Ryan. “That’s like saying Marilyn Monroe is just a girl.”
Halfway through the season, the team was undefeated and released a song titled “The Super Bowl Shuffle” after their only loss of the season to the Miami Dolphins.
NFL fans were aware that Miami prevented the Bears from becoming just the second NFL team (after the 1972 Dolphins) to go through a season undefeated.
After posting a 15-1 record, the Bears demolished the New York Giants and LA Rams in the playoffs by a combined score of 45-0.
Super Bowl XX
Ryan and his defense met together the night before Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots and he broke their hearts.
He had just been hired as the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and would head to Philly after the Super Bowl.
The big, burly football players who were killers on the field suddenly turned to mush.
“Quivering lip, tears, pretty emotional,” recalled Fencik.
Ryan told his players one last thing before they left.
“He said, ‘I just want you guys to know that no matter what happens out there, you will always be my heroes,'” said Singletary. “Steve McMichael picked up a chair and threw it across the room. Dan Hampton threw his chair against the wall.”
Right off the bat in Super Bowl XX, the Patriots kicked a field goal after a Payton fumble to take a 3-0 lead.
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) June 29, 2016
After that, it was all Chicago.
Cornerback Reggie Phillips returned an interception 28 yards for a score, and Perry acted as a running back by Ditka for a one-yard score.
Chicago’s defense allowed only one first down, sacked Patriots quarterbacks Steve Grogan and Tony Eason seven times, and intercepted Grogan twice during the Bears’ stifling 46-10 victory.
Eason did not complete any of his passes (the first time for a quarterback in Super Bowl history) and New England was held to 123 total offensive yards for the contest, the second-lowest total in game history.
During most of their time together with the Bears, Ditka and Ryan were at odds.
Otis Wilson and Richard Dent carry defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, off the field after winning Super Bowl XX pic.twitter.com/70oHSTSzxT
— chicago sports pics (@ChicagoSprtsPic) February 9, 2014
After the Super Bowl, both men were carried off the field by their players, and years later, Ditka had nothing but good things to say about Ryan.
“We won a Super Bowl together, and we would have never done it without each other,” said Ditka in 2016. “Buddy was far before his time, really. He did things defensively that people had no concept of. What Buddy did was genius. He was a hell of a coach. Period,” Ditka said. “And his players loved him. There’s not much more you can ask than that.”
When he arrived in 1986, Ryan was disgusted by what he saw in the Eagles’ personnel and started to clean house.
“Coulda cut the whole damn team in Philly the first year, but I only cut half,” Ryan said. “Had to play somebody.”
Although the Eagles’ defense knocked three quarterbacks out of games in 1986, the team won five games his first year and then won seven in 1987.
Buddy Ryan was HIM when it came to the Kelly Green. Should I recreate one of these game day fits? pic.twitter.com/iz2WN2duBG
— tom stakes (@tomstakes) February 21, 2023
Using the same tactics he deployed in his previous stops, Ryan found a way to motivate his players.
“His first day of training camp here, there were six fights and 10 guys in the hospital with dehydration,” said Waters. “He’d walk over to the offensive huddle and tell the running backs to cut-block us. Then walk over to the defensive huddle and say, “‘Running backs are cut-blocking you guys. Gonna take that?’” Then he’d stand back there twirling his whistle, grinning.”
During the 1988 season, quarterback Randall Cunningham and the offense had just enough talent to get the Eagles to 10-6 before a loss to Chicago in the playoffs.
In 1989, the defense was ranked fifth in the NFL and Philly won 11 games before losing to the LA Rams in the Wild Card round.
The “Body Bag Game”
By the halfway point of the 1990 season, the Eagles were 4-4 and set to play the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football on November 12.
Before the game, Ryan was confident that his defense would punish the ’Skins and boasted that “they’ll have to be carted off in body bags.”
On this day in 1990, "The Body Bag Game" – notoriously named after Eagles coach Buddy Ryan threatens beating Redskins so badly "they'll have to be carted off in body bags" the Eagles defense score 3 touchdowns winning 28–14, knocking 8 Redskins out of the game pic.twitter.com/fYEsIqhQa4
— GAS – Sports for the Culture (@goodasssports) November 12, 2020
(During the 1989 season, several Dallas Cowboys players alleged that Ryan had issued a bounty on them that resulted in several Cowboys’ injuries.)
True to his word, the Philly defense was responsible for two scores, and both Washington quarterbacks, Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries were knocked from the game.
“It’s a tough, physical, rough game,” said Golic in 2016. “And Buddy epitomized that style of play more than any other coach I had at any level. … He wanted the results, and he put you in position to make plays. You loved playing for him because he coached the way you wanted to play the game: attack mode. Attack, attack, attack.”
In total, nine Redskins players were injured during the contest, and rookie running back Brian Mitchell was forced to finish the game as Washington’s emergency quarterback.
29 years ago today Buddy Ryan’s Eagles knocked every single Redskins player out of the Monday Night Football game at the Vet, they were carted off in body bags and lost 28-14 #BodyBagGame pic.twitter.com/ZPHZkr2t6n
— @TheEvilHippie (@TheEvilHippie) November 12, 2019
Philly used their 28-14 win over the ’Skins to spark a 6-2 finish to the season.
Unfortunately, the Eagles lost in the Wild Card round again (to Washington) and Ryan was fired.
In five years as Philly’s coach, Ryan had a 43-35-1 record and three playoff appearances.
For the next two years, Ryan was out of football and employed by CNN as an NFL commentator.
Then, before the 1993 season, Houston Oilers coach Jack Pardee hired Ryan to be his defensive coordinator.
With a stacked defense including Sean Jones, Ray Childress, William Fuller, Lamar Lathon, Blaine Bishop, Chris Dishman, and Bubba McDowell, Ryan helped the defense improve from ninth overall in 1992 to fourth in ’93.
As talented as his unit was, Ryan didn’t always get along with some of his colleagues.
On this date in 1994, the Houston Oilers fired head coach Jack Pardee and replaced him with 36-year-old Jeff Fisher.
Buddy Ryan on also-fired offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride: "I predicted that he'd be selling insurance in two years. It was a year early." pic.twitter.com/z1x4ztntdu
— Quirky Research (@QuirkyResearch) November 14, 2018
During a game against the Jets in the final game of the regular season, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called pass plays even though the game was in hand.
Ryan believed that Gilbride needed to slow his run-and-shoot offense and run the ball so the team could run out the clock.
Instead, Gilbride signaled in passes that were intercepted, meaning Ryan’s defense had to play more minutes than was necessary.
Ever seen 2 coaches on the same team fight? Well that’s kind of what happened when Houston Oilers coach Buddy Ryan punched Kevin Gilbride on the sideline of a game.
Ryan was the defensive coordinator, Gilbride the offensive coordinator, and Ryan was tired of his play-calling! 😂 pic.twitter.com/sBheEiFmzN
— V̷a̷t̷o̷r̷ (@Vator_H_Town) August 23, 2022
Finally, Ryan was so exasperated that he threw a punch at Gilbride’s face. The moment was caught on national television.
“It was so indicative of who Buddy Ryan was, and people didn’t understand it,” Hampton said. “He didn’t like how (Gilbride) kept calling pass plays with Warren Moon throwing interceptions. It was throwing Buddy’s defense back on the field, exposing them to injury. That’s how everybody who played for Buddy knew he cared for you. He wouldn’t tolerate someone who wasn’t putting the team first.”
Houston won the game, 24-0, and then played Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional round, losing the contest 28-20.
After the season, the Arizona Cardinals hired Ryan to become their new head coach.
Short Stint with the Cards
When Ryan arrived in the desert in 1994, season ticket sales soared. People came out of the woodwork to play for him as well.
In 1994, the Cardinals hired Buddy Ryan and upon arrival he declared, “You've got a winner in town.” Ryan signed many former Eagles players, including Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Andre Waters and Terry Hoage but failed to produce a winner. The Cardinals went 12-20. pic.twitter.com/30HfTvxYtq
— FB_Helmet_Guy (@FB_Helmet_Guy) December 13, 2022
Ryan brought in some of his former players such as Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Keith McCants, Wilber Marshall, Terry Hoage, and Andre Waters to set the tone for the defense.
“(He) told us never to break up a fight in camp,” admitted Joyner.
Joining Ryan in Phoenix were his sons, Rob and Rex, who coached the defensive backs and defensive line, respectively.
Although the Cardinals’ offense could do no better than an average of 14.7 points per game, the defense was the NFL’s fourth-best.
For the first time in over a decade, the Cardinals won eight games, finishing 1994 with an 8-8 record.
The following season, the defense cratered to 30th in the NFL, and Arizona won only four games.
After a 12-20, two-year record, Ryan was fired.
Retirement and Death
When Ryan was released by the Cardinals, he decided to walk away from the game after nearly 40 years.
He retired to his farm in Kentucky with his second wife, Joanie, and got his football fix by watching his sons, Rob and Rex.
Rex Ryan has been the head coach of the Jets and Buffalo Bills. Rob has spent time as a defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for several organizations.
Remembering the defensive mastermind James David "Buddy" Ryan with his son Raiders Rob Ryan.
(February 17, 1934 – June 28, 2016) pic.twitter.com/F3mtreZIYN
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) February 17, 2023
On June 28, 2016, Ryan died after suffering from a long illness. He was 85 years old.
During his career, Ryan helped three of his teams, the Jets, Vikings, and Bears reach the Super Bowl.
As a head coach, Ryan was 55-55-1 and lost three times in the playoffs.
He is still well known for his defenses, specifically the “46,” which is used today by college and pro teams.
“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said after Ryan’s passing. “He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached.”