Her accomplishments are well documented, so I'll focus instead on her style and determination, the two attributes I always admired about her. I'm just a few years her junior and since I was a fan of the women's game, tended to follow the Lady Vols. While in college, I even covered the Virginia Tech women's team and did some play by play and analyst work for the campus radio station, so I consider myself somewhat of an early adopter of the sport. What always impressed me about Pat Summit (she was married in 1980), was the total immersion she had in the actions of her players. It was a trait that men's coaches like Dean Smith and Bobby Knight exhibited, but Summit was the first one that I remember taking it to that level in the women's game. The tenacity of her players and the style of play eventually led her program to rise to dominance, winning six NCAA titles between 1987 and 1998. But it was more than that. There was just something special about her that drew interest to her.
I've commented to many people through the years that I truly believe Pat Summit could have been successful coaching any gender at any level. While we still haven't seen a female coach of a men's team in college or the NBA, it's probably only a matter of time and when it happens, we'll have Pat Summit to thank for it. I watch the top coaches in the women's game today, and it's evident that most, if not all, are devotees of Summit's ground-breaking style and commitment to excellence. Her presence has been sorely missed from the game for the past four years, and it will now be forever missed just as those truly great ones always leave a hole in the hearts of those they affected so positively throughout their lives.
Buddy Ryan, A True Original: There was a lot of conversation on sports talk radio this morning on where the defense of the 1985 Chicago Bears rates in the history of professional football. Even though it might not have been the statistical leader in a lot of categories, I believe it was the most dominant I've ever seen, and my NFL viewing began in 1962. Green Bay was great. Even the George Halas led Bears with Dick Butkus wreaking havoc at middle linebacker, had a fierce defense. The Steel Curtain that led Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl victories and the Ravens squad led by Ray Lewis deserve special consideration. But none of them were so strong that when my team went up against them, it was as if there was virtually no hope of being able to get on the scoreboard. The Bears topped the Redskins 45 - 10 in the fourth game of the season and really never looked back, except in their only loss, an inexplicable 38 - 24 defeat by the Miami Dolphins. The defense held opponents to ten points or less in an unbelievable fourteen of nineteen games, including four shutouts. In their two NFC playoff games, they didn't allow a single point. Now that's true dominance. And their leader was Buddy Ryan, who died this morning at the age of 82.
Ryan, who left the Bears after that magical season to take the head coaching job for the Philadelphia Eagles, caught lightning in a bottle. His innovative 46 defense combined with very talented personnel created a force that, as the season wore on, continued to improve to the point that made them virtually unbeatable. Former players have nothing but praise for Ryan, attributing his uncanny ability to get the most from his team as the reason for his success. Even though his Eagles team never won a playoff game under his tutelage, it wasn't necessarily the fault of the defense. Reggie White and Jerome Brown were forces of nature and the reason the Eagles were always at or near the top of the NFC East during his tenure.
But Ryan will not be remembered for those Eagles teams. No, his legacy will always be that one, unbelievable, truly special group of players that lifted the 1985 Chicago Bears to their lone Super Bowl crown. And as far as I'm concerned, you can take your Packers, argue for your Steelers and try to make a case for the Ravens. But they all fall short of Buddy Ryan's 46 defense where the stars aligned and the Bears ruled the football world, if only for that single season.