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He is a 56-year-old man in an aquamarine running suit. A series of stylish white stripes cuts through the aquamarine. The stripes seem to accentuate Buddy Ryan's round shape, putting back the pounds that a certain liquid diet made him lose. He is a 56-year-old beach ball rolling across the floor of the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room toward a table containing a buffet lunch. The beach ball has gray hair, bifocals with metal frames and little blood vessels that have risen with age on its checks.
"Hey, Buddy," a voice from one locker shouts. "You get a new suit?"
"Nice suit," another voice says.
Heh-heh-heh. Buddy laughs. Isn't this where he belongs? He is a man's man, not only in a man's world, but in a man's world he created. His men. His team. His place. Heh-heh-heh. He has a mound of food on his paper plate and a mound of love in this room. He brought these guys together. He bleeds for them. They bleed for him. They bleed for each other.
Isn't this what he promised nearly five years ago when he became the Eagles' coach? The doubters and the bobblers and the weak of heart have been dismissed with scorn. He has control. Total control. He came here when this team stunk, and he just about had to rip everything down before he could rebuild it to his own tough specifications. Five years of hard work. Five years of hard and noisy work. The end result is the love.
"People have the wrong idea about Buddy," says linebacker Al Harris. "The public doesn't know. I mean, he came to my wedding this spring. It was the same weekend as a scouting combine in Indianapolis, which was an important time because of all the juniors coming out in the draft. Buddy sent the coaches instead. He didn't have to come—I would have understood—but he did. That's Buddy."
"He sent a limo for me at the airport when I came back," says All-Pro tight end Keith Jackson, a late arrival this year after his unsuccessful contract holdout. "I wasn't surprised. I kind of expected something like that from Buddy."
Does any other team in pro football have its own bowling league, with 36 of the 47 players getting together on Monday nights? (The standings are posted near running back Keith Byars's locker.) Does any other team laugh together, sing together and get mad together as much as this one? One player is running after a teammate with a mop covered in shaving cream. There's Jim McMahon, the reserve quarterback, playing dominoes on the floor with two other guys.
This is Buddy's team. This is Buddy's vision. He wanted his own platoon filled with his own specially selected men, men he gladly would have taken into combat when he was an 18-year-old Army master sergeant so long, long ago in the Korean War. Heh-heh-heh. This is exactly what he has.