NEW YORK (AP) — With his son out of the prediction business this week, Buddy Ryan jumped in feet first.
“Jets and Bears,” he answered quickly, sounding more like the horseman and handicapper he’s become in retirement than the head coach and revolutionary defensive mind that Ryan was for a lifetime before that.
“The Jets gave me my first job and my son’s the coach, so it makes that one easy,” he said about New York’s AFC matchup at Pittsburgh.
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Picking the Bears over the Packers wasn’t much harder, for many of the same reasons. Ryan served as defensive coordinator for Green Bay’s NFC division rivals in Minnesota and Chicago after leaving New York — and before the first of his two head-coaching stints in Philadelphia.
After playing the Packers twice every year over that stretch, Ryan says he can’t help but harbor a grudge.
“It was a great rivalry, even when both of us weren’t any good,” he recalled. “They both have good quarterbacks now, but down deep those games were always about the same thing: who’s toughest. At some point, this one probably will be, too.
“The first couple times we went up there, it was easy to be impressed, especially if you were a young coach. There was all this history and tradition, Vince Lombardi and all that,” Ryan said. “But after they rubbed it in a few times, it gets under your skin.
“So, yeah,” he added, “there were some games when we were more interested in making points than scoring them.”
Ryan once explained his delight in blitzing every opponent relentlessly this way: “So we could find out who the second-string quarterback was.” But in a late 1980s regular-season game against the Packers, he seemed determined to go even farther than that.
The Bears led 61-7 late in the game, yet Ryan kept the blitz package going full-tilt against Green Bay’s third string. Thirty years later, he couldn’t recall the specifics even as he chuckled at the memory.
“Well, I was the defensive coordinator then and that sure sounds like me. But it wasn’t my job to take it out. It was their job,” Ryan said defiantly, “to do something about it.”
Buddy’s proprietary interest in the success of son Rex and his former employers in Chicago extend beyond emotional ties. His trademark defense, named the “46” because that was the number frequently blitzing safety Doug Plank wore, operated out of a 4-3 set — four defensive lineman and three linebackers.
Rex Ryan’s Jets often line up in a base 3-4 formation, but employ many of the unorthodox schemes Buddy employed to send eight or nine attackers after the quarterback. The Steelers and Packers play a much more traditional version of the 3-4 defense.
“Both of those defenses do everything well and Capers (Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom) has designed some great ways to send extra guys,” Ryan said. “But I got to be honest — I like complicated, I like going after the quarterback just about every time, and it looks like Rex mostly does, too.
“And the way the league has set up the rules to protect those quarterbacks these days,” he added, “you got to make sure you get your shots in every chance you get.”
Nobody ever called Buddy or Rex conservative, but the elder Ryan said he understood why his son is keeping a relatively low profile this week.
“I said last week he was smart to let his players talk. You need something some weeks to get them get riled up. But underneath, I think it was personal between the Jets and Patriots,” Ryan said. “It’s a little different between them and the Steelers.”
Buddy said he never minded being the villain, and he doubts Rex does, either.
“Look, both my boys know how this thing is supposed to be run,” he said. “They lived it growing up.”
Rex and his twin brother, Rob, who just took over as defensive coordinator in Dallas, have followed their father through coaching stints in a half-dozen NFL towns.
“They know you move a lot and get booed a lot. They know you only get so many chances,” the patriarch said. “Sometimes, you got something up your sleeve, other times you play it straight. Both these (championship games) have enough going on around them as it is.
“It might be quiet all week,” Ryan said finally, “probably because there’s not going to be a moment’s peace for anybody once they start it up Sunday.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.