It's a sad day when anyone dies. Whether it's the death of a loved one or celebrity or athlete that we idolize as a kid and adult, it doesn't make it any easier to endure. Whether it's because of natural causes or from a debilitating disease which a cure has yet to be discovered, it doesn't make it any easier to endure. Buddy Ryan and Pat Summitt are legends in the sports world. Buddy Ryan was a defensive mastermind in the National Football League. Pat Summitt was a trailblazer for women's basketball, as well as women's athletics as a whole. They will forever live on in our minds and hearts for what they accomplished and the crap they decided not to take from anyone.
Buddy Ryan brought two sons into the football world that keep the Ryan family name alive. Buddy is perhaps best remembered for two great coaching performances. He was a defensive coach for the New York Jets that were on the winning end in one of the greatest upsets in sports history: Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts. That game is probably best remembered for quarterback Joe Namath predicting that he and his underdog Jets would defeat the heavy favorite Colts. However, one could easily overlook the defensive masterpiece that Buddy Ryan helped create during the upset. This was only the beginning for the Ryan legacy.
I'm not going to get too technical with how great Ryan was, but his "46" defense for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s was revolutionary to say the least. Prior to the immortalization of the 1985 Bears in Super Bowl XX, Buddy Ryan had been through some really tough times in the Windy City. When head coach Mike Ditka was hired in 1982 by owner George Halas, Ryan had endure three brutal years prior to Ditka's arrival. Halas was hellbent on wanting to clean house, but it wasn't Ditka or any of the other coaches, including Ryan himself, asking to stay on with Ditka. It was a couple players who wrote their owner a letter asking for the retention of Ryan as defensive coordinator. How many employees in today's sports world, or any particular profession, would go to such an extent to voice their opinion? It's as seldom as snow here in San Diego.
Granted, it caused a weird feud between Ditka and Ryan following the destruction of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, but how often do you see players or coaches being carried off on the players' shoulders? It was quite the sight to behold. That Bears team went 17-and-1 and is widely regarded as the best defensive club of all-time (if you need proof, watch the ESPN 30 for 30 film entitled "The '85 Bears," and you won't be disappointed).
One particular quote from the Chicago Tribune tribute to Ryan was interesting to me was at the very end. The now-late defensive genius said, "learning how to tear down a player with one sentence... that's what coaching is all about." There's a rich irony in that sentence. In today's over-protective world, you can't insult or insinuate lifestyles for a particular person without fearing the wrath from some activist. Anytime anyone says anything remotely negative, it's met with fierce backlash. If Buddy Ryan coached in today's football world, he would be prohibited from being the "take-no-crap-from-no-one" type of coach. He'd more than likely be at the mercy of the players. You have to protect your product and coaches are more expendable. The former Army master sergeant had a heart of gold despite being incredibly tough on his players. You didn't have to look far to understand that.
Pat Summitt was the legendary head coach of women's basketball for the University of Tennessee. She rarely smiled on the court, and that icy exterior was often imitated but never duplicated. Summitt clinched 16 conference championships as well as eight national championships in her 38-year tenure in Knoxville. The Lady Volunteers were often in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament picture, and many pundits claim that there was such a large competitive disparity in women's hoops. It doesn't matter if that's the truth or not. What matters is that Summitt compiled nearly 1,100 wins and a little more than 200 defeats in her career.
The former Nashville native had basketball in her blood. She didn't play favorites, and she always brought out the best in her players. She put women's basketball on the proverbial map. She increased recruiting possibilities for aspiring female basketball players. Whether it was in Knoxville, Storrs, Connecticut (UConn), Norman, Oklahoma (OU), Waco, Texas (Baylor), or Palo Alto, CA (Stanford), for example, women's hoops has become quite the spectacle. While it might never be able to compete on a level as men's basketball, you cannot argue against the impact, both on and off the court, made by Summitt.
Summitt was such a competitor and she was seldom sitting down, both on and off the clock. There's a great story about when Summitt and her Lady Vols were precluded from playing for a national title by the University of Virginia. On a flight to a recruiting trip in the Old Dominion State, a very pregnant Summitt went into labor and refused to let the pilot land in the state of the team that defeated her. It's amazing how much of a grudge a coach can have even when one is so far away from the court. You would never imagine such a demand being made due to governmental regulations and other extenuating circumstances.
This was a coach, much like Buddy Ryan, who took nothing from no one in regards to criticism and always brought out the best in her players. There are no terms as to which year or which team it was, but there was an instance where Summitt punished a squad for partying late at night. She forced her team to run until they were sick and proceeded to vomit. Never the ultimate tough coach, Summitt did provide trash cans as some sense of salvation. Would that ever happen in today's world? Not a chance! You would be persecuted beyond your wildest dreams. You would be ridiculed beyond imagination, and you would be run out of a job at all costs.
It's really unfortunate that Summitt had to endure a sickness and disease that has yet to have a cure discovered. You almost feel helpless despite how much you want and/or have helped Summitt or someone else you know that's suffering from Alzheimer's. Even though, at the moment, the family of Buddy Ryan hasn't admitted the cause of his death, he did battle a stroke and cancer. Our world strives every single day with high hopes to find cures for these extremely debilitating conditions that shorten the lives of the people we love. So, during the time we continue to search for an antidote and preventative measures for cancer, Alzheimer's, and others, let us look at the glass half-full and appreciate the great coaches/athletes during their lifetimes and continue to never forget how influential they've been on our lives as well as countless others.