Buddy Ryan, the architect of the 46 defense that helped the 1985 Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 85.
Former players gathered together Tuesday to discuss Ryan and the effect he had on them.
“(Playing for him) was great,” former Bears linebacker Otis Wilson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Buddy had a great defensive mind, and for a guy that has passion to play the way I do, that system fit me perfect. We had some great athletes in that system and Buddy always allowed a lot of freedom once you knew what you were doing. But at first, it was crazy trying to learn that system. I didn’t think Buddy liked me at first. After talking to a couple of guys – Dan Hampton and Al Harris – yesterday, we got to reminiscing and talking stories. (Ryan) broke you down and he set you up for success. He knew what he wanted, what he was trying to accomplish and he wanted to get you to understand. Everybody that played in that system knew what everybody was doing, had the liberties to work with one another, and Buddy was just an innovator and a great person. That’s what I take away more than anything. He was like a dad to us. He was a friend, he was a coach, he was everything. You loved playing in this system because of the freedom – and when you’re an athletic linebacker, it fits you just right.”
Prior to the 46 defense, the Bears played a 4-3.
“We played a variety of things,” Wilson said. “If you think about it, the 46 was almost like the knockout punch. You set them up in the 4-3 and you’re playing the run more so in that defense. When he figured he got you on the ropes and he wants to make that quarterback very uncomfortable, he’ll switch it to the 46.”
The Bears, considered by many the greatest defense of all time, excelled under a coaching staff and locker room full of outsized personalities, from Mike Ditka to Buddy Ryan, from Dan Hampton to Richard Dent.
“It was like being in a rock band,” Wilson said. “You had Hampton, you had myself, you had (Steve) McMichael, you had Richard Dent, you had (Mike) Singletary, Wilber (Marshall), Gary (Fencik) – the list goes on. Everybody was strong-willed and (had a) great personality. The key was to learn how to play together and understand what we were trying to do. Then on the other side you had (Jim) McMahon, you had Walter (Payton), Fridge (William Perry). You would think a team of that caliber with that many superstars, you would think that team would self-destruct. And then having the two crazy coaches – Buddy and Ditka (would go) at one another. But it worked so well together – and we’re a different generation. We’re old-school. A team like that today could never play together. They would just self-destruct. We understood what our mission was. We loved one another, we cared about one another and we played together with one another.”