PHILADELPHIA – Thirty years ago today, the Philadelphia Eagles hired Buddy Ryan. The team and the fans who follow it so passionately have never been the same.
There has been a lot of talk this week about the 1985 Chicago Bears. One of that legendary team’s linebackers, Ron Rivera, is preparing to coach in this year’s Super Bowl. That lends a certain resonance to replays of the 30-year-old “Super Bowl Shuffle” video created by the Bears in 1985.
In 1985, Norman Braman was in his first season as owner of the Eagles. By that season’s end, Braman had started looking around for a head coach to replace Marion Campbell, the coach he had inherited.
A Philadelphia Inquirer story in December revealed that Braman had spoken to David Shula, the son of Miami Dolphins coaching legend Don Shula, about the job. After reporter Angelo Cataldi’s scoop hit, Campbell told Braman he didn’t feel he could coach under those circumstances. His players all knew he was about to be replaced.
So Campbell was dismissed and the Eagles had an interim head coach, Fred Bruney, for their final regular-season game. The Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings, 37-35, in Bruney’s lone game as their head coach. It was the most points they scored all season (it was also the most they allowed).
Thirty years later, Rivera’s Carolina Panthers will play the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Rivera’s offensive coordinator is Mike Shula, the younger brother of the man Braman interviewed for the Eagles job in 1985.
While Bruney was coaching the Eagles to a win in Minnesota, Rivera and the Bears were finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record. They rolled through the playoffs with two shutouts, defeating the New York Giants, 21-0, and the Los Angeles Rams, 24-0.
Somewhere in there, Braman read a New York Times profile about the man behind the Bears’ smothering defense. He was intrigued and began courting James David “Buddy” Ryan.
On Jan. 26, 1986, the Bears rolled over the New England Patriots, 46-10, in the Super Bowl. On Jan. 28, Ryan agreed to a five-year contract to become head coach of the Eagles. The next day, Ryan was introduced at a news conference.
That began a direct line that leads to the present day. When Ryan got there, the Eagles had already acquired quarterback Randall Cunningham and defensive end Reggie White. In the 1986 draft, they added defensive stars Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons. Ryan promised the Eagles would win all their division games and claim the NFC East title.
They went 5-10-1. The next year, the NFL strike threw the entire season out of whack.
For the next three years, Ryan took the Eagles to the playoffs but failed to win a postseason game. Meanwhile, he found ways to irritate his absentee boss, referring to Braman as “the guy in France” and presenting “scab rings” to club president Harry Gamble and his assistant George Azar for their part in assembling the replacement players for the 1987 strike games.
When Ryan’s contract expired after the 1990 season, Braman informed the coach that there would not be a second contract.
Ryan was out. Braman promoted offensive coordinator Rich Kotite to be the Eagles’ new head coach. By Kotite’s last season, Braman sold the team to Jeff Lurie and exited the sports scene. White was a Green Bay Packer and Cunningham was on his last legs in Philadelphia.
Ryan went on to coach in Houston and Arizona. He never got back to the Super Bowl. His twin sons, Rex and Rob, have followed him into the NFL coaching ranks, much as David and Mike Shula followed their father, Don.
Mike Shula has a chance to be the offensive coordinator of the next Super Bowl champion. He will not become the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, however. That job is taken.