Philadelphia Eagles News

Continuing To Salute Eagles' Past

The Eagles have ramped up their alumni efforts in 2011, establishing an Eagles Alumni Association, bringing in distinguished members of the organization for each home game and, last week, inducting former cornerback Eric Allen and former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson into the Honor Roll.

On Monday night at halftime, the Eagles have an expanded menu for the Alumni tribute, introducing to the fans more than a dozen players and coaches from the teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, names that include tight end Keith Jackson, running back Keith Byars, linebacker Seth Joyner and defensive end Clyde Simmons. They will all walk down the red carpet, wave to the crowd and wait for their head coach, James David (Buddy) Ryan to be introduced and to walk to the microphone to say hello once again to the Eagles fans he invigorated, infuriated and without question instigated from 1986-90.

"I remember the first radio show I did at Rib-It (a since-closed restaurant in Philadelphia) and a girl came in with a tee-shirt on that said, 'I pull for two teams: The Philadelphia Eagles and whoever plays Dallas.' So we kind of went from there. Dallas was always the key game for us," said Ryan in a Sunday morning conference call.

Ryan is coming to town to be honored by the Otho Davis Scholarship Foundation on Tuesday night in a special dinner (to order tickets, call 856-312-1129). Davis is the late, great Eagles head athletic trainer who worked with the team from 1973-95.

Before Ryan is honored there, he will address the fans at halftime of the game against the Bears. His five seasons in Philadelphia were marked by a tremendous amount of excitement, as Ryan inherited a bedraggled franchise that had missed the playoffs in four straight seasons. The glow of the Super Bowl run faded after 1980 and by the time Ryan came to town, the Eagles were down and nearly out.

Ryan blew life into the franchise with his blustery manner and his outstanding defensive coaching skills.

"You've got a winner in town," said Ryan at his introductory press conference.

Ryan won, just not enough. After two seasons of sub-.500 football, the Eagles won the NFC East in 1988 and followed with playoff appearances in 1989 and 1990. But the Eagles failed to win a playoff game and Ryan's contract was not renewed for 1991.

His relationship with management, and especially Owner Norman Braman, was uncomfortable, to say the least. Ryan was critical of Braman's style then, and even took shots at Braman on Sunday.

"We thought we had a great team, but we needed one more draft to get there. We had one the thing (reaching the playoffs) three times in a row and we were ready to win the Super Bowl, but we didn't get the chance," said Ryan. "I didn't think I was going to get fired. We needed a little bit to go to the Super Bowl. We had been very successful against the teams in our division. We should have continued right on and won one more year and we would have been there. We didn't get a chance to do it. That was the sad thing.

"If we had had the owner they have there now (Jeffrey Lurie), we probably would have won five or six Super Bowls."

Ryan obviously has fond memories of his teams and his players.

"The greatest defense that ever played in the NFL was the '85, Bears, but the best front four that was ever assembled and there have been a great bunch of them, was Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Mike Pitts and Mike Golic," said Ryan. "That's the best group of athletes that has ever been together in a front four of all the big ones and I've been associated with the big ones in a coaching capacity."

Ryan recently had surgery for cancer that has spread from his glands into his neck and he is taking radiation five days a week. This trip to Philadelphia meant so much to Ryan that he is skipping four days of radiation to return here, to be honored, and to send his best regards to the fans of the Eagles who supported him so ardently for five memorable seasons.

"The fans were very jubilant. They loved their team. They are great fans," said Ryan. "It's always a pleasure to get back to see those people. I wish I had gotten the opportunity to win there. I know I could have gotten it done."

Ryan insists, to this day, that all he needed was one more year. He pointed out a missed opportunity to take a big offensive tackle to help the offense and the failed chance to sign linebacker Wilbur Marshall because "the owner wouldn't come up with the money."

In the end, his time here, while it revived the profile of the team with the great defenses and the spectacular play of quarterback Randall Cunningham, was ultimately disappointing. Three playoffs appearances and zero post-season victories and Braman decided it was time to move on.

Now, of course, the Eagles are an entirely different organization under Lurie. Head coach Andy Reid has made the playoffs nine times in 12 seasons and has reached five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. The Eagles have the makings of an outstanding team this year and for many seasons to come.

Last Sunday night, they dismantled the Cowboys and a defense coached by Buddy Ryan's son, Rob. Buddy noticed, and he was impressed by the Eagles.

"That was a great exhibition of winning. They did a great job and they looked great. They looked like the dream team, I think. They looked great to me," he said.

Monday night is the latest example of the Eagles and the fans celebrating the past, as they have done this season when Alumni honorary captains Joyner and Tra Thomas were part of the halftime ceremony. This time around the reach has been expanded and, for one night, remembered for more than one player or one coach. This time, a period of time in Eagles history will be recalled fondly, part of a special night in a prime-time venue with a prime-time team on center stage for the entire world to watch.

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