Ray Didinger: The Gang Is Back Together

It is fitting that Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons enter the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame together. It is fitting because, in the minds of Eagles fans, that’s how they are remembered: Seth and Clyde. Like Butch and Sundance, you can’t think of one without the other.

They arrived together in 1986, selected back to back in the draft: Joyner in the eighth round, Simmons in the ninth. For eight seasons, they were teammates and roommates. Along with Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Eric Allen, and the rest, they formed one of the fiercest defensive units the NFL has ever seen.

Eagles fans still talk about the day in Dallas when Gang Green sacked Troy Aikman 11 times. They still talk about the Body Bag Game when they sent eight Washington Redskins limping off the field. They talk about the Monday night in Houston when the Eagles hammered the Oilers into bloody submission with Joyner putting on a show for the national TV audience.

“If there is a better linebacker in the NFL than Seth Joyner, I haven’t seen him,” analyst Dan Dierdorf said as Joyner - playing with a 102-degree fever - had eight solo tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two sacks in a 13-6 Eagles victory, now known as the House of Pain Game.

Simmons set a club record with 4.5 sacks in the mauling of Aikman in 1991. He ranks third all time in Eagles history with 76 sacks. Joyner ranks eighth (first among linebackers) with 37 sacks. Joyner also holds the club record for touchdowns on fumble recoveries with three.

Seth and Clyde certainly left their mark and it will be celebrated when the Eagles meet the Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field. When they are enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, they will take their place alongside White, Brown, Allen, and Randall Cunningham from that colorful Buddy Ryan team of the late 1980s. Although they never made it to a Super Bowl, they are beloved in Philadelphia.

“The fans in this town are different,” Joyner says. “They love defense and we brought it every week."

In 1991, Paul Zimmerman, the esteemed football columnist for Sports Illustrated, picked White and Simmons as the defensive ends on his annual All-Pro team. He selected Brown as one of his defensive tackles and he named Joyner as his Player of the Year. It was a rare honor for a defensive player but Joyner was a rare player.

“He is the glue that holds the Philly defense together,” Zimmerman said of Joyner. “He is equally adept at both rushing the passer and covering a receiver.”

Sacks were the measuring stick for linebackers in those days so Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, and Pat Swilling got most of the acclaim. Because he was used in multiple roles and not as a pure pass-rusher Joyner was underrated for too long. It wasn’t until the virtuoso performance in Houston, with the prime-time audience watching, that he finally became part of the All-Pro conversation.

Similarly, Simmons was playing in the shadow of White, arguably the best defensive end of all time. That combined with Simmons’ desire to avoid the spotlight - “I don’t need that mess,” he says - kept his profile lower than it should have been. But in 1992, Simmons led the league with 19 sacks, just two short of White’s club record, and the quiet man from Lane, South Carolina, found himself in the headlines almost in spite of himself.

Ryan had a knack for spotting talent on defense. He was especially good at identifying players who could flourish in his 46 scheme which required athletes who were versatile and smart as well as physical. Joyner and Simmons had it. They were just playing off the grid at Texas-El Paso (Joyner) and Western Carolina (Simmons). Ryan and his coaching staff found them while studying film prior to the 1986 draft.

“Clyde was an undersized guy but he had long arms and he could move,” Ryan said. “I knew we weren’t going to take a defensive lineman high so I was looking for a guy we could get in the later rounds, a guy other people might not have on their board. I kept coming back to Clyde. I told Dale (Haupt, defensive line coach), ‘I think we can do something with this guy.’”

Joyner impressed Ryan with his speed. The coach never had seen a college linebacker who also ran on the school’s 400-meter relay team. Joyner did that so Ryan drafted him with pick No. 208 and followed that by selecting Simmons with pick No. 233.

“We didn’t consider it a crapshoot,” Ryan said. “We knew what we had.”

“When we reported to camp, I weighed more than Clyde,” Joyner says. “I was 250 pounds and he was 235. He was tall (6-6) and skinny and real quiet. He was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet but on the field, he was intense. We had that in common. We bonded right away.”

At the end of the preseason, Ryan released Joyner and kept another rookie linebacker, Alonzo Johnson, who was drafted in the second round. Three weeks into the season, Ryan realized he made a mistake and he brought back Joyner who was living with his family in upstate New York waiting for the phone to ring.

“Buddy said, ‘Learn your stuff, you’re starting this week,’” Joyner says.

Joyner had 10 tackles in the game against the Giants and he was a starter for the next seven years.

Joyner combined rare athleticism - he outran Giants halfback Dave Meggett on an interception return - with a coach-like commitment to preparation. He was the last player to leave the Vet most nights usually carrying several film reels to study at home. Typically he would come to the stadium on the off day to get an early look at the game plan for that week. He demanded a lot from himself and he wasn’t shy about demanding the same from his teammates.

"People get (ticked) off at me but I don't care if they like me or dislike me," Joyner said in a 1991 Sport Magazine interview. "I care that they do their jobs because I'm busting my behind to do mine. I know I can't expect everybody to have the same passion I have for the game, but it really (ticks) me off when guys say they are trying their hardest. I'm sorry, that's not good enough." 

Joyner and Simmons left Philadelphia together following the 1993 season, rejoining Buddy Ryan in Arizona. Joyner finally won a Super Bowl ring with the Denver Broncos in 1999. He now lives in Arizona and commutes to Philadelphia each week to bring his expertise to Eagles Pregame Live and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons is defensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns, but Seth and Clyde still are best friends and they are overjoyed to share this honor together. 

"If I have a problem, I know I can be on the other side of the world and Clyde will be there," Joyner says. "It's rare that you can run across people you can call your true friends, but Clyde is a true friend. I know it will always be that way and that's a great feeling."

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which comes out in October.

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