Jury still out on Ryan's rebuilding job; McMahon to Raiders?
Buddy Ryan, the man with the reputation for being almost 100 percent rough edges, agreed to coach Philadelphia this year only after his demand for a five-year contract was met. Ordinarily, a first-time National Football League head coach might have been happy with three years. But as the architect of Chicago's ``46'' defense, he wasn't about to let that leverage go to waste - especially after the Bears won the Super Bowl. Whether Ryan has done a good, fair, or poor job in his debut will be judged after the fact. To be sure, Philadelphia's 5-9-1 record at this point wouldn't buy Buddy parking meter space outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But all will be forgiven if the Eagles become playoff material even two years down the road.
The Eagles have played better than their record suggests - as shown by the fact that five of their losses were by three points or less. And Sunday's 23-21 upset of Dallas has to be a confidence-builder for next year.
Meanwhile, however, Ryan is having his usual problems with the press, and with fans who had hoped for improvement over last year's 7-9 record.
In any restructuring job, though, the finished product isn't going to be any better than the personnel. If the talent is there, and the players fit together, you have what the Bears had last year - a steel barricade against the run and an almost equally ironclad umbrella against the pass. But if some of your horses turn out to be ponies, the proof goes right up on the scoreboard.
For better or worse, Ryan has always been his own man. If he doesn't like a player's attitude or work habits, he gets rid of him. Some Eagle fans are still screaming about how quickly he cut last year's starting center, Mark Dennard.
Ryan also has a tongue that can peel the hide off an alligator, and if he's not getting what he wants in practice, he'll needle his players with the same gusto Don Rickles uses on nightclub and TV audiences.
Even people who don't like Buddy's pushy tactics would never doubt his knowledge of the game. The thing they question is the pressure he puts on his own people.
This isn't to say Ryan may not build a winner, only that his Clint Eastwood approach could create a lot of dropouts along the way. The Teflon Man
Everybody knows how tough the New York Giants have become this season. One reason has been the superb play of tight end Mark Bavaro, who, at 6 ft. 4 in. and 245 lbs., has the necessary combination of finesse and power to both block and catch passes. Bavaro, a fourth-round draft pick in 1985, can lay claim to being the NFL's leading Teflon Man, meaning no tackler sticks to him for very long.
One of this season's most compelling film clips shows Mark catching a 31-yard pass, then dragging four San Francisco defenders another 20 yards before being grounded. Although old-timers still talk about how Bronco Nagurski used to carry tacklers this way, visual evidence of this sort is not readily available.
The Giants originally planned to bring Bavaro along slowly, staying with veteran incumbent Zeke Mowatt at least one more year. But when Mowatt was wiped out by a pre-season injury last year, New York gambled with its prize rookie and won. In addition to blocking superbly, Mark was the club's second-leading receiver with 37 catches for 511 yards and four touchdowns. So far this year he has 61 receptions for 942 yards and two TDs. McMahon may be dealt to Raiders
It hasn't exactly become a roar yet, but you keep hearing from different sources that the Chicago Bears are going to trade quarterback Jim McMahon to the Los Angeles Raiders after the season. In addition to reported differences between McMahon and coach Mike Ditka, the story is that Jim's teammates are still down on him for arriving at training camp overweight. Some of them apparently believe he could have avoided the early-season injury that put him out of action for a while if he had been in better shape.
With McMahon now sidelined for the rest of the season, the rumored trade may hinge on how well Mike Tomczak and Doug Flutie handle the Bears in the playoffs. Tomczak, the second-year backup man from Ohio State, has been the nominal starter since McMahon was hurt and has looked good at times. But Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College, has been coming on strongly since joining the team in midseason. Doug turned in another sharp performance off the bench Monday night, replacing Tomczak early in the game when the latter was injured and directing the Bears to a 16-13 victory over Detroit.