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So they played hockey (Rex was an all-star goalie) and baseball. Rex worked a paper route in the morning and another in the afternoon; occasionally he attended school. "Unless they were playing floor hockey or softball that day," says Rex, "I wasn't going."
In the fall of 1977, when the twins were 14, Doris sent them to live with Buddy, who was beginning his second season as Bud Grant's defensive coordinator with the Vikings. "It was time for them to be with their father," she says. They lived with Buddy and Joanie for one year in Edina, Minn., and four years in Chicago. Rex and Rob were ball boys for the Bears; Walter Payton was their best friend. They soaked up football every day, and in 1981 headed to Southwestern Oklahoma State to play college ball.
They were marginally talented 215-pound defensive ends on the scout team who wreaked havoc in scrimmages and in bars. "They got pushed around on the field, but they scrapped," says Bob Mazie, the Southwestern coach during the Ryans' time on campus. "There were a lot of fights. Off the field too."
Rex says, "I looked at college as something that's supposed to be the best time of your life. We had a ball. And I got it out of my system." Rex eventually earned a master's in physical education in 1988 while an assistant at Eastern Kentucky, his first coaching job. (In the middle of all the carousing, he met his future wife, Michelle; they've been married 22 years and have two children.)
Even throughout the hell-raising in college, both Ryan boys paid attention to their football and plotted their future as coaches. Buddy knew firsthand what coaching could do to a man's life and tried to steer his sons away from the profession. But they insisted, and in the spring of 1987, while he was coach of the Eagles, Buddy went to Oklahoma, rented a hotel conference room and taught his sons the 46 using a black marker on a paper easel. They gave as good as they got. "They knew plenty," says Buddy. "So I told 'em to go get some jobs."
Rex went from Eastern Kentucky to New Mexico Highlands to Morehead State—"The big time," he says—before joining his brother and his dad in Arizona. The Cards went 8--8 in the Ryans' first year and ranked third in the NFL in total defense, but they slipped to 4--12 and last in scoring defense in '95. That got Buddy fired.
Rex went to work under coach Rick Minter at the University of Cincinnati. Early in two-a-days, Minter called for a 9-on-7 inside running game drill, with the two safeties on the field essentially as defensive props, not to tackle or be blocked. "On the first rep, Rex calls a free safety blitz up the A gap," says Minter. "He just stones the running back. I say, 'Rex, my gosh, it's a 9-on-7 drill.' Rex says, 'Coach, we've got to set the tone around here.'"
Three years later, after a stop at Oklahoma, Rex was hired by Billick to coach the Ravens' line, joining in the creation of one of the most potent defenses in recent NFL history.
Statistics tell one story. Only once in Rex's 10 seasons in Baltimore did the Ravens rank lower than sixth in the NFL in total defense. "Trust me," he says. "I'll stop your run. Say what you want about me, but if I want to, I'll stop your run." The Super Bowl XXXV champions allowed only 165 points, fewest in NFL history for a 16-game season. During the Colts' run to the Super Bowl XLI title three years ago, the Ravens held Peyton Manning's offense to five field goals in a 15--6 divisional-round playoff loss. "We dominated them," says linebacker Bart Scott, one of two defensive starters Rex brought to the Jets from Baltimore, along with safety Jim Leonhard, this off-season. "Rex was dialed in."
Emotions tell another story. Rex not only helped build—and eventually lead—the Ravens' defense, but much like his father he was an innovator who cultivated loyalty and attitude. Rex's schemes have built on Buddy's devotion to pressure. ("The more you hit the quarterback, the better you're going to do," says Rob.) Baltimore's defensive playbook was endless. Faneca saw it from the other side as a Steelers offensive lineman. "Studying for those guys, there was always something new," he says. "You were always trying to analyze not only what they were doing but what they might do."