If the Bears had missed the playoffs, would Ditka have been rehired? Opening his bonus check envelope on a postseason airplane flight, Ryan, the defensive coordinator, said, "Pretty good for saving the a——'s job."
"I like differences. I like all these characters hopping around," says McCaskey, patting the bronze sculpture of his Grandpapa Bear in the president's office of Halas Hall. The CEO remembers the old man preferred it that way, too. As a kid McCaskey stood a few yards away as Halas raged along the sidelines. He remembers Bulldog Turner and Bill George and heard stories about the original Decatur Staleys of 1920, whose team picture is soon to be mounted on the wall. McCaskey also remembers Doug Atkins, who used to lounge on a tarpaulin, refusing to practice, and who once locked Halas up in a room so he could have his undivided attention for a shouting match.
"The fact Mike and I have disparate styles is not a problem. I'd be unhappy if there wasn't some disagreement around here," McCaskey says. "Mike's disputes with Buddy are also healthy...as long as there's mutual respect."
The Ditka-Ryan thing is played down by the participants, but it is common knowledge around Chicago and the league that Ryan, whom Halas kept on at the behest of the players while he released most of the previous coaching staff, regards Ditka as less than a brilliant coach. "Does McMahon audible most of his touchdown plays?" Ryan is fond of inquiring. "At least that's what they tell me."
A weathered, pipe-smoking Oklahoman who wears tractor-equipment caps and raises thoroughbred horses at his Kentucky farm in the off-season, Ryan, 51, knows how good he and his defense are. "When they hired me, they wanted a messiah," he chuckles. Ryan is a disciple of Weeb Ewbank. He handled the defense for the Namathian Jets—and the scouting and drafting as well. With Chicago he is not involved in the latter pursuits, which has led to his finding grave fault with several Bear rookies over the years.
Ryan said Wilson didn't know "strong side from weak side." He called Marshall a "spoiled crybaby," Singletary "stupid" and Perry, of course, "a wasted pick." That's when Ryan wasn't calling the players by their numbers, which he infinitely prefers to names, anyhow. So Ryan set his own table for developing the fearsome "46"—named incidentally after the number of the retired kamikaze, Plank—and now he takes pride in pushing "55 and 58" (Wilson and Marshall) for All-Pro and "50" (Singletary) for NFL Player of the Year.
For his part Ditka might have gotten rid of Ryan long ago—"I don't ask him [anything]," Ditka snapped at a recent press conference. "I tell him"—if Ryan wasn't so danged brilliant at what he does, so revered by the Bear defenders. "Buddy is our coach, not Ditka," says one Bear defensive player.
Well, ah, Ditka's strong suit not being love and affection, he does excel in that most sensitive and important coaching faculty (especially at the pro level): motivation. "The man does get us to play," says the same Bear.
Moreover, how really ignorant could Ditka possibly be, game-plan wise? The Bears went through six quarterbacks last year, forcing Ditka to practically reintroduce the single wing with the amazing Payton carrying the load. This season the Bears have called halfback passes and reverses and tight-end-in-motion plays as if by rote; they line up in the shotgun formation as much as any team. (The man who lobbied for the shotgun at Dallas was none other than Ditka.) When McMahon recently missed three games with a shoulder injury—he returned as a starter in the 17-10 win over the Colts on Sunday—journeyman Steve Fuller and rookie Mike Tomczak put 88 points of the Bears' 104 total on the board. And that's 72 more than the holy defense contributed. Then, always, there's Ditka's ingenious monument to history, the Fridge. Or as Ditka's wife, Diana, calls him, Fridge-a-Bear.
The truth is, Ditka has grown in the job. He has mellowed and matured—even Ryan accepts that, saying, "He doesn't lose poise on the sidelines anymore." The only negative this season was his arrest on a drunken driving charge on Oct. 14. He was convicted. "That was a mistake," says the coach, who had been picked up coming home from O'Hare Airport following the Bears' victory at San Francisco. "I'm still very embarrassed. But it will make me a better person. What hurts is that those high school kids I speak to about such things must figure me a hypocrite. That hurts."