It is a sad day in the NFL. One of its all-time great schemers and characters, Buddy Ryan, has died at age 82.
For Dallas Cowboys fans, the always brash, always outspoken Ryan was a man they loved to hate. As the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach from 1986-1990, he lost just once to the Cowboys (in non-strike games) and won the last seven matchups, including four consecutive against Jimmy Johnson in 1989 and 1990.
Of course, the one game that lives on in infamy is the 1989 Thanksgiving meeting, a 27-0 shellacking by the Eagles at Texas Stadium. But the score was hardly the story of a game that would become known as the “Bounty Bowl.”
Afterward, Johnson, whose team was 1-10 at the time on its way to 1-15 in the first season of the post-Tom Landry era, accused Ryan of taking out a bounty on Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas. The twist here was that Ryan had released the kicker only a few weeks earlier, and young quarterback Troy Aikman.
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Johnson claimed Ryan put a $200 bounty on Zendejas and $500 on Aikman. Years later, Johnson, who said his favorite game while coaching the Cowboys was going against Ryan’s stout Eagles defenses, still got fired up talking about “Bounty Bowl.”
Johnson said he wanted to confront Ryan on the field, but “he wouldn't stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room."
Ryan laughed off the suggestion that he put a bounty on a 5-foot-6 kicker, saying: "Why would I place a bounty on a kicker, who can't kick worth a damn?”
Ryan took more offense to Johnson calling him fat.
The game video certainly makes it tough to defend Ryan’s stance that he didn’t put a bounty on Zendejas, who got knocked wobbly on the opening kickoff.
A couple weeks later when the Cowboys visited Philadelphia for Bounty Bowl II, Eagles fans pelted Johnson and the Cowboys with snowballs, which were really ice balls, as CBS announcer Verne Lundquist pointed out.
Ryan lasted one more season in Philadelphia before his tumultuous five-year run there came to end. He would also coach the Arizona Cardinals for a couple of seasons, and finished with a 55-55-1 record. His greatest accomplishments came as a hard-nosed defensive coordinator.
He developed the famed 46 defense that helped Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl in 1985.
His history with Dallas came full circle a few years ago when he traveled to New Jersey to watch his twin sons, Rex, then the coach of the New York Jets, and Rob, then the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, square off.
If Ryan was on your sideline, you loved him. If not, you wanted to sock him in the jaw. Either way, the NFL will miss one of its all-time coaches and characters.