Of the many Buddy Ryan stories I heard or read Tuesday, two of my favorites came from Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher was a reserve defensive back on Ryan's Chicago Bears defense. He wasn't a very good player. The only time he would see the field was in a pinch if an injury -- and usually two -- occurred, such as during one of the Bears' games at Minnesota in the early 1980s.
“I was playing nickel back and I got beat by a couple of different receivers for two touchdown passes," Fisher told SiriusXM NFL Radio during day-long tributes to Ryan after his passing. "We won the game, we came back in the meeting room to watch he tape the next day and, obviously, I wasn’t looking forward to it. And you know what Buddy did? He cut those plays out of the tape. He didn’t show them because he said it wasn’t my fault because I shouldn’t have been in that position. I didn’t have any practice preparation. He just put me in there.
“And that’s the kind of guy he was. He loved his guys, he loved his players, he protected his players, he always stood behind them.”
As I heard that story, I couldn't help but think about Buddy's twin sons, Rex and Rob. That's the sort of loyalty they, too, have long conveyed as coaches. When you're one of their guys, as Fisher was to Buddy, you're someone they will fiercely defend.
You will get second chances, as IK Enemkpali did after the Jets cut him for breaking Geno Smith's jaw last summer. You will have every opportunity to succeed and rebound if you fail. You will have your positives highlighted when everyone else is focusing on your negatives.
After retiring as a player, Fisher joined the staff that Buddy put together after he became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1986. Fisher described something that caught his eye the first time he walked into Buddy's office at Veterans Stadium.
"He had a sign on the back of his desk that said, 'If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes,'" Fisher recalled. "And that's the way he approached life: 'I'm going to be in charge and I'm going to make sure things get done my way.'"
Is that not Rex? Is that not Rob?
They are unmistakably the lead dogs. Right or wrong. Win or lose. They own their space, and right now that space is in Orchard Park.
It's the Ryan way.
Buddy never did get to enjoy the heights as a head coach in Philadelphia and Arizona that he reached while guiding the Bears' defense to historic dominance in 1985. He got that memorable ride off the field on the shoulders of his defensive players after Chicago's Super Bowl win while those on the offensive side carried off the actual head coach, Mike Ditka.
Ditka and Buddy had their differences. Their massive egos collided and the animosity spread to the practice field as Buddy took pleasure in having his defense beat up on the Bears' offense, overlooking the fact that everyone on the field was supposedly on the same team.
But the years seem to have softened Ditka's view of his one-time adversary.
"He was a special guy," Ditka told SiriusXM NFL Radio only moments after learning of Buddy's passing. “The ‘85 Bears would have been nothing without that defense. That defense was our football team. It let us do everything we wanted to do offensively because the other team never had the ball. And that’s pretty good.
"Maybe that’s what you need. You need two coaches going head to head and they get their offense to be good against their defense and their defense to be good against their offense, and it makes us better. We were a better offense because we had to practice against that defense every day."
Which is precisely the sort of thing Rex and Rob are determined to see happen during Bills practices. They felt they were trending in that direction during some of those feistier-than-usual offseason workouts at One Bills Drive.
Before ending his interview, Ditka said, "There are no more Buddy Ryans, believe me."
I disagree. Buddy's spirit absolutely is alive and well in his twin sons.