By Don Banks
January 21, 2010

Some of his trademark bravado might be tempered a bit by time, but you can still tell it's Buddy Ryan on the other end of the phone. That much comes through loud and clear, even at age 75.

"We're going to have to make this quick. I've got two more of you guys outside my house right now waiting to talk to me,'' Ryan informed me Wednesday when I reached him at his horse farm near Lawrenceburg, Ky. "I've got you guys stacked up.''

Everybody wants to talk to Buddy Ryan this week, and it's easy to guess why. His son Rex, rookie head coach of the upstart New York Jets, is the talk of the NFL playoffs. And with apologies to Brett Favre and the entire city of New Orleans, Rex's Jets are the best story going. We do love underdogs in America. Especially ones who can't for the life of them figure out why everyone considers them underdogs to begin with.

Buddy Ryan being Buddy Ryan, he's quick to point out he saw all this coming. When the former Eagles and Cardinals head coach visited one of his son's first Jets minicamps last June, he was already talking about a Super Bowl being in New York's future.

"I've watched the offensive line and the defensive line, and when you win -- and you're going to win -- you have to have a great offensive line and a great defensive line,'' Buddy Ryan said at the time. "They've got that here. I'm impressed with their enthusiasm, the way they work and hit, their size. I think you can near guarantee yourself a Super Bowl if they stay healthy, both offensive and defensive lines.''


For near guarantees, that's pretty near to coming true. If the Jets (11-7) can somehow cobble together one more playoff upset in Sunday's AFC Championship game at Indianapolis, New York will be back in the Super Bowl for the first time since Joe Namath was its guarantee-making quarterback and Buddy Ryan its tough-talking, first-year linebackers coach, 41 years ago this month. Talk about karma and coming full circle. It's Jets-Colts all over again, and the Ryan family is on the scene once more -- as brash as ever.

"He's been preparing all his life for this job,'' Buddy Ryan said of Rex. "There's no problem there. He did his A-B-C's in coaching. Everything he could do. Everything wasn't just handed to him, and he made the best of it. He's done a great job and showed people what he can do. I love what he's done with his team.''

Rex Ryan's confidence level has received both ridicule and praise this season, but his dad says there's no better way to get a football team to believe in itself than to talk like you believe in it. The Jets have risen to the challenge late this season, winning four straight games, in part to back up their rookie head coach's big words. Buddy Ryan was certainly never one to avoid a boast if he thought he or his team could back it up, and Rex obviously learned that lesson well.

"I don't know if you learn something like that or you're just naturally born with that ability,'' Buddy Ryan said. "I guess he watched me do it with my teams. But I know he was around a lot of great coaches growing up. Weeb Ewbank. Bud Grant. Neill Armstrong. As a ball boy on some of them teams, he was always working and learning how to coach.''

Rex Ryan, of course, has already surpassed his father in one key category: playoff wins as a head coach. He's 2-0 in the postseason while Buddy went 0-3 in his seven-year head coaching career (1986-90 in Philadelphia, 1993-94 in Arizona), losing in the first round with the Eagles in 1988, '89 and '90. That final defeat cost him his job in Philly, despite his strong regular-season success.

"You've got to have a lot of things going for you in the playoffs to make a run,'' Rex Ryan said earlier this month. "[My father] had a lot of really good Philly teams. I think if they had kept him there, he would have won a few Super Bowls. I truly believe that. They had the youngest team in the league when they fired him, and went three straight years to the playoffs. It's unfortunate the Eagles never won a playoff game during those times, but I thought they were really talented.''

Under Rex Ryan, the Jets had the top-ranked defense in the NFL this season, and that's one more link to the past and Buddy Ryan's tenure in New York. The last time the Jets defense was No. 1 in its league came in that magical season of 1968, when New York led the AFL.

"We only had two coaches on defense that year (Ryan and Walt Michaels), and two on offense,'' Buddy Ryan said. "Things weren't near as complicated as they are now. But when I watch the Jets this year, I think he's doing a great job, and he'll prove it again this week.''


For the first time all season, Buddy Ryan will be in the house on Sunday when the Jets play. He's planning on driving the three hours to Indianapolis from Kentucky on Saturday, in time to have dinner with his son, and he'll be at Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the Jets and Colts tangle once more in the postseason.

Beating Peyton Manning and the favored Colts (15-2) will be no small challenge for Ryan's Jets. But then, once upon a time, Johnny Unitas and the Colts looked pretty formidable against an underdog Jets team from another era, and that upset unfolded, shocking the pro football world.

"I think he can win with his team, sure,'' Buddy Ryan said of Rex. "That's the reason I'm looking forward to seeing this game this weekend. I've wanted to see him win this game, him against the Colts, since he was in Baltimore (as the Ravens defensive coordinator). It'll be a close game. But they can do it.''

Be it Buddy or Rex, what else would you expect a Ryan to say?

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