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Buddy Ryan's defensive legacy still looms large over Chicago

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Hampton: Buddy Ryan was a leader of men (1:57)

Dan Hampton remembers Buddy Ryan and what he meant to the Chicago Bears. (1:57)

CHICAGO -- Thirty years after the Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX, Buddy Ryan's famed 46 defense still casts a large shadow over the city.

"Everybody realizes what Buddy Ryan brought here and brought back to Chicago -- it was that Monster of the Midway mentality," former Bears All-Pro defensive lineman Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael said on Tuesday. "He was going to tear your f---ing head off."

Ryan died Tuesday at the age of 85.

His tenacity meshed perfectly with the hard-working mentality of Chicago sports fans, who immediately fell in love with Ryan’s relentless, hard-hitting defense that featured, among others, future Hall of Famers Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and Richard Dent.

"Buddy told us to go get them and do something about it before they can," McMichael said. "That’s warfare. And that’s where Buddy came from. He was an old sergeant in Korea.

"He told us he used to tell a private to ride around the perimeter at night to see if there was a sniper out there ready to shoot at them. So I knew that in Buddy’s defensive game plan that my personal well-being was of no consequence. He expected you to play yourself like an accordion for the greater good of the defense."

Aided by the teachings of Ryan and head coach Mike Ditka, the 1985 Bears became instant rock stars not just in Chicago, but nationwide -- a label that sticks with them three decades later. Members of the '85 Bears continue to make countless promotional and corporate appearances around Chicago, plus they remain staples on local television and sports talk radio.

It seems that no matter how much time elapses, Bears fans refuse to embrace another defense like the one in 1985.

And that includes Lovie Smith’s successful Cover-2 scheme that ranked in the top five in total yards, passing yards and points scored over the 2005-2006 seasons. Smith’s group, which included Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher, won consecutive NFC North division titles and the NFC Championship in 2006.

That defense, however, is an afterthought when compared to the '85 Bears.

McMichael believes the reason is attitude.

"You know, the Bears have had good defenses, like when they reached the Super Bowl in 2006 with Urlacher," McMichael said. "But they didn’t have the Monster of the Midway mentality that Buddy Ryan had here when he was defensive coordinator.

"We are remembered because we attacked. Why are you going to sit back and wait for somebody to attack you? I’ve never understood the read and react or the prevent defense. You are preventing yourself from winning when you run that stuff."

The Bears still won after Ryan departed for Philadelphia following Super Bowl XX, but they failed to win another championship in the post-Ryan years.

The Bears' inability to repeat without Ryan only adds to the legendary defensive coordinator's mystique in Chicago, but it gnaws at McMichael.

"People ask all the time, ‘Why didn’t you guys win another Super Bowl?’" McMichael said. "Well, Buddy Ryan went to Philadelphia. Period. Doesn’t anybody understand that? That was the first tooth being pulled out of the snarl."

Despite Ryan’s decision to leave Chicago, the ’85 Bears remained fiercely loyal to the legendary defensive coordinator.

McMichael, in particular, took the news of Ryan’s death hard.

"I wonder who just lost their defensive coordinating job in heaven," McMichael said. "There will never be another one like him."