Rex Ryan, the head coach who will bring his New York Jets team to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon, is no stranger to Philadelphia. Ryan, of course, is the son of Buddy Ryan, the head coach of the Eagles from 1986-1990 who is fondly remembered for his punishing defenses. During those year, Rex was in his mid-20's, just getting his coaching career started on the collegiate level, but he has nothing but fond memories of the city.
"It was great the years my dad had in Philly," Ryan said on a conference call with Philadelphia reporters Wednesday. "I think you're right, the fans really did identify with him. He was himself and I think the fans really appreciated that. I think he wishes he would have had a couple more years to maybe get the Eagles over the top there, but really they put together one heck of a football team and I think the fans appreciated the way they played. They might not win every game but they were going to beat you up every game, that's pretty much how the Eagles were.
"I was there all the time. I actually would come back and if I had some off time or whatever I would work there in the airport in Philly. I was around a lot of those guys and really just around Philly. I thought it was great, I loved it."
Earlier this season, on November 7, the Eagles honored Buddy Ryan and some of his players during halftime of their Monday Night game against the Chicago Bears. It was an experience that will forever stay with the Ryan family.
"He absolutely loved it," Rex Ryan said of his father. "A classy thing to do by (Eagles Chairman and CEO) Jeffrey Lurie and I know one thing, he'll never forget it. He certainly appreciated it and I appreciated it as well."
But this week, Ryan and the Eagles will be bitter foes. At 8-5, the Jets are currently clinging to a wildcard spot while the 5-8 Eagles need to win each of their three remaining games to have a chance at making the playoffs. But Ryan won't prepare for the Eagles based on their record.
"I've watched their talent," said Ryan, "That doesn't look like a 5-8 team. They're fourth in the league in offense, 11th in defense so the numbers don't make sense right there. They've had some struggles, but I'm going to tell you this, they probably have as much talent as any team in this league.
"Michael Vick's the number one guy, that's what jumps out. Nobody has him, there's only one Michael Vick in this league. Dynamic playmaker, can make all the throws, strong arm and obviously the way he can move is second to nobody in this league. He's the first guy, and then you got (LeSean) McCoy, every time he touches it, it looks like a punt return ... Obviously he is a tremendous player. Then you've got DeSean Jackson, they've got plenty of weapons. But you know what? We've got plenty of weapons on our defense so this is going to be a great matchup."
One defensive weapon that Ryan won't have in his arsenal is safety Jim Leonhard, who suffered a season-ending injury last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It's a huge loss," Ryan said. "A huge, huge loss for us. He's kind of the quarterback of our defense. Now we are really fortunate, we have some really good players at safety, we have Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, they will be the starters. And last year, those were our starters through the playoffs and they played a lot of really good football. But to say we won't miss Jim Leonhard is selling the young man short. We clearly will miss him, but that's part of this game."
Across the sideline from Ryan Sunday will be Eagles head coach Andy Reid, as Merrill Reese is fond of saying, the winningest coach in franchise history. Ryan, in his typically joking manner, had nothing but good things to say about his counterpart.
"Well I think both of us are extremely handsome," Ryan cracked. "That's the thing that really jumps out at you. They say it's a big man's game, so there you have it. Two of the biggest coaches in the league going at it. But clearly, I respect the heck out of Andy. He's a tremendous coach, probably a Hall of Fame-type coach. So I think what he's done, his resume, is as impressive as anybody's."
For his part, Reid will settle for one more win on Sunday.
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