30-for-30’s Exploration of Buddy Ryan is Perfect

As an unapologetic fan of the Chicago Bears, 30-for-30’s The ’85 Bears was a must watch for me. Chronicling arguably the best team ever in the history of American football, The ’85 Bears has a particular focus on the team’s most powerful weapon — Buddy Ryan and the 46 Defense. While most sound bites and videos from the team are of headcoach Mike Ditka (and even today he receives almost all the publicity), Buddy Ryan was essential in the creation of the 1985 Bears. In focusing on Buddy and the emotional connection he had with his players, 30-for-30 successfully tells a compelling story about the building of one of the most dominant teams in the NFL.

Considering the exposure the 1985 Bears have had over the years, 30-for-30 had a difficult task in making yet another documentary about the “Monsters of the Midway” fresh and new. The documentary begins with Buddy Ryan in his current form; an old man, crippled by various ailments and hardly able to talk — a far cry from the defensive general he was in his prime. This sets the theme immediately as 30-for-30 skips over the standard regurgitated stats about the 1985 Bears that we’ve all heard umpteen times. Instead, director Jason Hehir opts to focus on the players, with various cut scenes between replay footage to interview former players for their thoughts during those exact moments. The documentary also gives new insight into the building of the ’85 Bears and the frustrations of various players for various reasons (including those of Walter Payton).

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Samurai Mike Singletary pays Buddy Ryan a heart wrenching visit.

The film really hits home and gold when focus shifts from the past to the present. Between Dave Duerson’s suicide and Jim McMahon’s on going battle with early onset dementia, the film opens a serious dialogue about the after effects of football. In concluding the documentary, defensive players were asked to read a letter from Ryan, thanking them for saving his job and praising them. Mike Singletary, one of the meanest players in existence, could not even stomach to read the letter. As critic Bill Shulz put it, “Even Packer Backers will need a spare tissue for this game’s tear-jerker of a fourth quarter.”

Being born after this era of greatness, I have always regarded Mike Ditka at my favorite of the two. Sure the 46 Defense was great and Ryan is still the only assistant coach to be carried off the field after a Super Bowl win, I hadn’t considered Buddy Ryan as that important to the team (especially considering his success — or lack of — post-1985). But 30-for-30 has changed all that for me. Not only, through this film, is new light shed on Buddy Ryan for Bears fans and others, but the dangerous effects of football and greater insights on the business side of game are great takeaways that make The ’85 Bears a must see for all.

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