They gathered on the sidelines, these Philadelphia Eagles who had just pulled off one of the most remarkable wins in their club's history. They formed a tight group and chanted, "Bud-dee! Bud-dee! Bud-dee!" They were letting their coach, Buddy Ryan, know what they thought of him after their 42-37 victory over the Washington Redskins Sunday in one of the wildest games RFK Stadium had ever seen.
They were mocking the Skins fans, who had started the Bud-dee! chant back in the first quarter, when Washington was ahead 20-0 and things looked hopeless for Philadelphia. The fans had let the Eagles hear the chant twice more in the fourth quarter, when Philadelphia looked dead for sure. Now the Eagles cheered for their coach, and they carried him off the field. This was not Hickory High but the good old NFL, where guys make a million dollars and are supposed to be above that kind of thing.
Roll back the clock to January 1986. As the Chicago Bears were putting the finishing touches on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, Chicago's defensive players gathered around team president Mike McCaskey on the sidelines. They begged him to pay their coordinator, Buddy Ryan, whatever he wanted to keep him from going to the Eagles. The night before, they had torn up the meeting room when Ryan had said his goodbyes.
So what is it about this guy that turns normal people into wild-eyed fanatics? Simply this: He gets his players believing that, as a team, they're rougher, nastier and better than any other on the face of the earth. He came into Washington, a place where he hadn't won in three shots as a head coach, and told anyone who cared to listen that his guys were going to kick some butts. He said, "I hope it's 100 degrees out there, so we'll make those fat s.o.b.'s sweat. We'll beat 'em in the fourth quarter because we're in better shape than they are."
And that's pretty much what happened—though the temperature was only 75°. Late in the game the Eagles came on while the Redskins defense became wobble-legged. Indeed, Washington's final two possessions ended with Philadelphia's forcing fumbles. Eagle free safety Wes Hopkins returned the first of these 77 yards on a bizarre play in the final minute to set up the winning score, which came on quarterback Randall Cunningham's fifth touchdown pass of the afternoon. The Eagles have scored a lot of points in winning their first two games (in their season opener, they beat the Seattle Seahawks 31-7), and they have given up a lot, and that could be the pattern for the rest of the season. But they have that look of people on a mission.
Every weakness Philly had coming into the season was dramatically displayed on Sunday: no running attack (65 yards), shaky protection for Cunningham (he was sacked four times) and a gambling defense that leaves itself open to the big play (three of Washington's TDs covered more than 40 yards). On the other hand, Cunningham, who became the highest-paid player in NFL history on Sunday morning when he signed a five-year contract extension that will pay him approximately $17 million between 1991 and '95, is the best quarterback in the NFL right now. He was relentless, scrambling to buy time, reading everything, picking up secondary receivers. He had a huge day, completing a team-record 34 passes in 46 attempts for 447 yards and those five touchdowns. As for the throw-caution-to-the-wind defense, it picked up 115 yards worth of returns on two fumbles and forced six turnovers. This victory showed that, under Ryan, anything is possible.
"George Patton, Woody Hayes—Buddy's from the same school," said strong safety Todd Bell.
"If Buddy told me to jump off a bridge," said defensive tackle Jerome Brown, "well, I wouldn't do it, but I'd think about it."
Brown missed the team flight to Miami for Philadelphia's final exhibition game. Did he get fined? Hell, no. First Ryan was going to bench him, but then he checked the pregame temperature—it was in the 90's—and told his defensive coordinator, Jeff Fisher, to "make that big s.o.b. play the whole game."
"Yeah, I was dying," says the 295-pound Brown, "but so were lots of other guys."