Buddy Ryan, one of the greatest defensive minds in NFL history, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 82.
“Well, it’s sad,” Mike Ditka said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I knew Buddy wasn’t doing real good. I hadn’t seen him for awhile, but I saw him probably about eight months ago, and I knew he wasn’t doing real well, but I didn’t know it was this bad. He was a great guy, a great coach. We had our differences at times, but the Bears of ’85 won the Super Bowl because of Buddy Ryan and his defense and his coaching. That’s as simple as I can put it. I can’t put it any other way. He did a great, great job. His players loved him and they played hard for him.”
Ryan, the father of Rex and Rob Ryan, was the architect of the 46 defense, which helped the Chicago Bears win Super Bowl XX. Chicago went 15-1 that season and won its three playoff games by a combined score of 91-10.
“We had great players on offense and defense,” Ditka said. “Our offense was pretty good. We had a great line, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, a lot of guys. But we won strictly because of our defense. Buddy did a good job. He was way ahead of his time. I think the way he played defense in the ’80s is why the offenses are so good today. They learned you got to spread out people, you got to create man-to-man situations and you got to attack. He wouldn’t let you do that with the defense he played. So the only way you could beat him was to spread him out – and very few teams did that in those days.”
Ryan’s 46 defense was known for its physicality, aggressiveness and unpredictability. The ’84 Bears recorded 72 sacks, a record that still stands, but the ’85 defense – with Mike Singletary, William Perry, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson, Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik and others – is known as perhaps the best of all time.
Ditka, however, isn’t big on rankings.
“I don’t think there is any such thing as the best of all time,” he said. “We had a great one in 1963 when we won the championship. There’s so many good ones. But I think you have to rank (them as one of) the top five defenses of all time.”