The Chicago Bears lost one of their greatest icons on Tuesday when it was announced that former defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan had passed away, and the accolades and tributes to the coach were quick to pour in.
Ryan, best known as the defensive mastermind that brought the “46 defense” to national prominence with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, was at risk of losing his job after the 1981 season, but his players wrote a letter to team owner George Halas imploring him to let Ryan stay. The letter ended up working, and Ryan went on to help the team win a championship and cement its legacy as one of the greatest collections of talent the Windy City has ever seen.
In 2015, Ryan returned the favor and wrote his players a letter thanking them for their loyalty:
To my guys,
In 1981, many of you signed a letter to George Halas that saved my job. Now I’m writing a letter to all of you to say thanks. I wish I could be there to say it in person, but this will have to do.
Thank you to the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears, the greatest team in NFL history. You gave me the best memories of my coaching life.
I’ll love every one of you until the day I die. I told you this a long time ago, and it’s still true. You guys will always be my heroes.
Coach Buddy Ryan, 46
Players from Steve McMichael to Dan Hampton have discussed at length what Coach Ryan meant to them, and it’s abundantly clear that for as much as his team accomplished on the field, his impact on the players he worked with went far beyond just their playing days.