Buddy Ryan made the Eagles an obsession

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Buddy Ryan made the Eagles an obsession

Theres never been anybody in Philadelphia quite like Buddy Ryan. His teams never won anything, but hes still revered around these parts.

Ryan, a former Army drill sergeant during the Korean War, coached the Eagles from 1986 through 1990, and even though the Eagles went 0-3 in the postseason during that stretch, Ryan did put the Eagles back on the map after the franchise had fallen on hard times with four straight losing seasons from 1982 through 1985.

It was Ryans wild five-year tenure that really turned the Eagles into an obsession in Philly. In the 23 years since Ryans 1988 team won the NFC East, the Eagles have suffered through just five losing seasons. They rule sports coverage in Philadelphia, they rule the airwaves, they rule TV.

Its been like that since 1988, and thats the Buddy Ryan legacy. He made the Eagles relevant again nearly a quarter of a century ago, and their grip on sports fans across the Delaware Valley hasnt wavered since.

At my very first Buddy Ryan press conference as a beat guy -- it was during a 1988 voluntary camp practice on the east sideline of the grass field inside JFK Stadium, precisely where CSNPhillys office now is -- Ryan said linebacker Dwayne Jiles had reported to minicamp lacking fitness.

Heres how he put it: He looks like a big, fat washroom woman.

That was Day 1, and there was never a dull moment during the three years I covered Ryans Eagles for a suburban newspaper -- 1988 through 1990.

On Monday night, more than 20 years after he last coached on an Eagles sideline, the Eagles will honor Buddy at halftime of their nationally televised game against the Bears, the team Buddy led to a Super Bowl championship as defensive coordinator in 1985.

Buddy Ryan is 80 years old now and battling cancer. He leaves the trash talking to his two sons, Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob.

Itll be great to hear James David Buddy Ryan get one more cheer Monday night in South Philly. Love him or hate him, he deserves it.

That said, here are five random memories of my days with Buddy. There will never be another one like him.
Greg Bell, my ass

Its the Thursday before the Eagles-Rams playoff game in 1989, and the Eagles are finishing up a week of practice at the Falcons old facility in Suwanee, Ga.

Its Buddys turn at the podium, and hes asked by an L.A. writer about the challenge of facing Rams tailback Greg Bell, who had rushed for 1,137 yards and an NFL-leading 15 touchdowns that year.

Aw, heck, Ryan tells the media. Hes a tough running back. We gotta do a good job on him.

A few minutes later, the press conference is over, and Ryan starts walking out of the room. He passes the 10 or so Philly writers, who are sitting together on the right side of the room.

And then he smiles and mutters, under his breath: Greg Bell my ass.

Three days later, Bell runs for 124 and the Rams win 21-7.

Dinner at Mr. Stocks

One of Buddys favorite beat writers, Tim Kawakami, left the Philadelphia Daily News after the 1989 season to take a job with the L.A. Times. Since the Eagles were scheduled to face the Rams at the L.A. Coliseum in Week 3 of 1990, Buddy made plans to go out to dinner the night before the game with Timmy and all the Philly writers making the trip to California.

Buddy gave Timmy the assignment of finding the restaurant with the best wine list in Los Angeles, and Timmy took the task seriously. He spent weeks consulting with wine experts and after examining various menus and wine lists, he finally selected a fine Anaheim restaurant called Mr. Stox for the big feast.

The Eagles had opened the season 0-2 and rumor had it that owner Norman Braman was thinking of firing Buddy if the Eagles lost to the Rams and fell to 0-3. But Buddy was in great spirits that night, especially when we all arrived at Mr. Stox and were seated at a long, elegant table in the main dining room.

After we had all settled in, the wine steward approached Buddy and presented him with a wine list that must have had 500 wines on it. We all sat there in silence, waiting to hear what vintage bottles Buddy would pick out.

Buddy simply looked at the wine steward and said: How bout a bottle of white and a bottle of red?
Im not brain dead

Buddy Ryan had just been fired. It was the day after the 1990 playoff loss to the Redskins. Although the Eagles had won 10, 11 and 10 games the last three years, Ryan was unable to win in the postseason, and the Redskin loss was Buddys third in three years.

At a press conference moments earlier, Ryan had expressed shock at his ouster, saying, Ive been fired before for losing but never for winning. Ryan told the media he had no clue owner Norman Braman was thinking about firing him and said he was already looking ahead, preparing for the 1991 draft.

A few minutes later, the beat guys were summoned downstairs to the coaching offices at the Vet and quickly yanked into one of the teams film rooms, where Buddy was holding court with a huge smile on his face.

Hell, of course I knew he was going to fire me, Buddy said with a laugh. Im not brain dead.

Downhill, 100 miles per hour

Three years after leaving the Eagles, Buddy returned to the NFL as defensive coordinator with the Oilers under head coach Jack Pardee. Buddy was trying to maintain a low profile, since he was hoping for another head coaching opportunity (which he got a year later in Arizona).

With the Oilers on an 11-game winning streak after a 1-4 start, I decided to do a story on Buddys resurgence, but I was told by the Oilers PR guy that he wasnt doing interviews. I told them to let him know it was me, that we knew each other from his days with the Eagles, but I was told he almost certainly would turn down the interview request, and if he did talk, he wouldnt say anything controversial.

Sure.

A little while later, I got a call from Houston. Buddy would be glad to talk to me. Just dont expect anything inflammatory.

So I spoke with Buddy for few minutes about the Oilers defense and how well Marcus Robertson, Cris Dishman, William Fuller and Sean Jones were playing. Blah, blah, blah.

Then I asked Buddy if he still followed the Eagles, who were in the process of losing six straight games, most of them in incomprehensibly ugly fashion under Rich Kotite, Ryans hapless successor.

Well, hell, they decided to go in another direction, Ryan said of the Eagles. And they are. A hundred miles an hour, straight downhill.

I aint cut him yet

When Buddy saw a sports writer he didnt know, he always gave the guy a hard time. Especially if the guy seemed in over his head or was taking himself too seriously. Then Buddy was relentless. It was Buddy being Buddy, and it could be hilarious.

We were in the dog days of one of Buddys endless eight-week training camps, and a nervous kid from a tiny little newspaper somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania -- Shippensburg maybe? -- had made the drive out to West Chester to write a story on a local fullback who was in camp with the Eagles but who was essentially camp fodder and had zero chance to make the final roster.

After practice, when Buddy talked to the media, the kid gathered up the nerve to ask about his local fullback. Hows he doing? What had he shown Buddy during camp so far? What were his chances to make the team? The poor kid was just looking for a nice quote for his story.

Buddy just smiled and said: I aint cut him yet.

WHO is calling the plays?

There was a quiet old man named Mr. Braxton who used to work security at the Eagles entrance to the Vet. Nobody actually ever saw Mr. Braxton prevent anybody from entering the stadium, but thats another story. Nice old guy. Never bothered anybody, never said a word.

After Buddy was fired by the Eagles, he spent 1991 working as a halftime analyst for TNT, which used to broadcast the NFLs Thursday night games. As funny as Buddy was, his humor did not translate on TV. He seemed a lot smaller and less intimidating sitting on the broadcast set, and his insults seemed to ring hollow.

That was the year the Eagles had the NFLs top defense, but with Randall Cunningham out all year with an injury, the offense was inept.

During one stretch, when the Eagles scored just 26 points in four games under Pat Ryan, Brad Goebel, Jeff Kemp and Jim McMahon, Ryan was asked during a live TNT halftime show what was wrong with the Eagles offense.

He smiled, looked at the camera and said, Aw, hell, I think Mr. Braxton is calling the plays.

There might have been five people in the world who got the joke.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

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MLB Notes: Rangers' Rougned Odor's suspension reduced to 7 games

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor started serving his suspension Friday for punching Toronto's Jose Bautista after the penalty was reduced from eight to seven games.

Odor was out of the lineup for the series opener against Pittsburgh. He will be eligible to return June 4 when Texas is home against Seattle.

Bautista was suspended one game, and he was serving that Friday, when the penalty was upheld a day after his appeal was heard.

The Rangers promoted former top prospect Jurickson Profar from Triple-A Round Rock, and he was in the lineup against the Pirates as the leadoff hitter playing second base. Odor had been leading off.

Odor's penalty was cut by Major League Baseball special assistant John McHale Jr. The appeal over Odor's role in a May 15 brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays was heard Tuesday. The league disciplined 14 players and staff over the melee in Arlington (see full story).

Red Sox: Struggling RHP Clay Buchholz to bullpen
TORONTO -- Struggling Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz is being moved to the bullpen and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will take Buchholz's spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday at Baltimore.

Buchholz is 2-5 with a 6.35 ERA in 10 starts and has allowed five earned runs or more six times. He gave up season-highs of six runs and three home runs in Thursday's 8-2 loss to Colorado.

Rodriguez (right knee) is on the 15-day DL has not pitched for the Red Sox this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.54 ERA in five rehab starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2015.

Buchholz has made two career relief appearances, one in his rookie season in 2007 and another in 2008.

Manager John Farrell said Buchholz will make multi-inning appearances in order to remain stretched out and could return to the rotation later in the season.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

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NFL Notes: Jets' offer to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick stands at 3 years

NEW YORK -- A person familiar with the negotiations says the New York Jets made a three-year offer to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in March that includes $12 million guaranteed in the first year.

That offer has remained on the table for Fitzpatrick, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is commenting publicly on the negotiations.

The New York Post first reported the terms of the offer Friday.

Fitzpatrick and the Jets have been locked in a contract stalemate. The 33-year-old quarterback is a free agent and coming off a season in which he threw a Jets-record 31 touchdown passes and led New York within a victory of the playoffs.

Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick have said they would like a reunion, but have unable to agree on a deal.

Bears: First-round pick Leonard Floyd agrees to deal
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears and first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd have agreed to a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year.

The Bears drafted the outside linebacker from Georgia with the ninth pick after trading up two spots in a deal with Tampa Bay. Chicago hopes he will add some athleticism to a team trying to build on a 6-10 season. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound Floyd led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4 , and tied for the team lead with 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season.

With the announcement Friday, the Bears have agreed to contracts with eight of their nine picks. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard, a third-rounder, is the exception.

NFL: Navy's Reynolds, Carter can defer military service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Keenan Reynolds will get his chance to play in the NFL this season.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Friday that the record-setting Navy quarterback Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain can defer their military service to play in the NFL.

Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech to the academy in Annapolis. As students cheered the news about their graduating classmates, Carter said: "Go get 'em."

Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He is the NCAA's career leader in touchdowns with 88. He had 31 touchdown passes while leading Navy's triple-option offense. The Ravens plan to use him as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Swain has signed with the San Diego Chargers (see full story).

Redskins: Activists criticize poll on team name
WASHINGTON -- Native American leaders and activists have criticized a recent US national poll that found nine of 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Washington Redskins' name.

On a conference call held Friday by the National Congress of American Indians and "Change the Mascot" campaign, panelists voiced opposition to a Washington Post poll that surveyed 504 Native Americans, 90 percent of whom said the name doesn't bother them.

James Fenelon, a California State San Bernardino sociology professor, called the poll "immoral," adding it was not representative of Native American communities. Amanda Blackhorse, lead plaintiff in the trademark case against the Redskins, said the "misguided" poll will not affect attempts to change the name.

National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata said: "This issue is not about polling. This issue is about human rights."

D.C. council member David Grosso said he hadn't been swayed and that the government would not support the team moving back into the District unless the name was changed.

The team currently plays its home games in Maryland, with its headquarters and training facility in Virginia.