Chicago Bears legend Mike Singletary recently sat down with FanSided’s BGO and discussed a number of topics including Buddy Ryan, the 46 Defense, the domination of the 1985 Chicago Bears, and his new job with the St. Louis Rams.
Mike, you knew Buddy Ryan on a far more intimate level than the rest of us, so when you think of Buddy Ryan, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Loyalty. That’s the first word that comes to mind that he was extremely loyal. Whether it be the military or just upbringing or what have you or just being on the football team himself, as a player he was extremely loyal.
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A lot has been made about your bumpy relationship with Buddy early in your career, what was your rookie season like with him running the defense?
(Laughs). I’ll tell you, it wasn’t good. I just thought this guy doesn’t like me, somebody must have told him something about me that’s not good, he wants me to get out, but he was very, very tough on me as a rookie and by me wanting to be the middle linebacker, of course, that was the position that there was much information and trust that had to come through me for calling the plays and making adjustment and all of those things, so it was just a very difficult time for me.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the letter the defensive unit sent to George Halas late in 1981 to save his career. Dan Hampton mentioned in another interview that he wasn’t sure he would sign the letter because he was worried what Halas’ reaction would be, but he decided to sign it anyway. Did you have similar reservations?
No, I definitely knew that it was the right thing to do, and I was the one of the guys that, even though I did not like him- I thought he hated me, I just thought this is the guy that we need. I couldn’t believe I was saying it, I couldn’t believe that I was one of the guys that was really for making sure that we did do everything that we could to keep him. It was just something about him, and I think [it] was one of the best decisions that we ever made for the team.
What made the 46 defense so dominant?
Well first of all, I think it really starts from the guys inside. I always tell people that ask me about the 46 and teams that want to play it, they talk about, well we got great corners that can run and we got linebackers that can cover, we got all those things, and I always ask, do you have the 3 guys inside? Because if you don’t have the 3 guys inside that are forcing the one-on-ones, you can’t play the 46, you just can’t. So that to me is really what makes it work, and for us Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, and the Fridge, and those three guys really, particularly Dan, being over the center and having the two-gap every play, that is what really makes the 46 special.
Many analysts say the 46 defense was great for it’s time but it wouldn’t work today against the modern day offenses. If you had the right personnel, would the 46 work today?
Well, I’ll put it this way: I think right now, when you look at the Arizona team, Arizona is playing as close to the 46 as you can get. But I think that’s exactly a great version of the 46 defense. They got a guy that was basically drafted as a safety and is playing linebacker. I think that really is today’s version of what the 46 is.
The ’85 Bears are still used as the measuring stick as the greatest single season team of all-time. What was it that made that team so special and still stand out 30 years later?
It just happened at the right time. I think first of all you get Fridge who comes in at the beginning of that year, his rookie year, the biggest guy ever to play football and to be drafted, that was something, the hoopla that came with him playing fullback. Then you have Jim McMahon really coming into his own and he’s got his own personality. And of course Walter Payton breaking records and it was just our time and I think Buddy and Coach Ditka and all that was happening there and coming off a season when we finished in San Francisco getting shut out in the championship game, and really vowing to come back and make everything right, the 46 just came at the right time, not to mention the Super Bowl Shuffle. I think it was just a crazy year, and it was just right for us.
A lot has been made of the tension in 1985 between Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka. Was that rivalry as serious as the media made it out to be and did that tension trickle down to the offensive and defensive units as well?
I wouldn’t say that it was tension. It was something that the players got along, the players talked. McMahon, I talked to McMahon every Friday, to talk to him about what did he feel the offense can do, how many points did he feel the offense could score. Sometimes Jim would say “Mike, you know what, I think we can score three points, these guys are really, really good.” And coming out of that I would talk to our D and say “guys, we gotta step up. Jim said they can possibly score three points.” So based on the conversation with him that was what really gave me a good idea of what we needed to do, so we had relationships, we definitely were close with one another, but when we practiced, it was just you know, we went full speed and sometimes we, because the coaches getting at each other, it would turn out into a full brawl, but at the end of practice we were friends coming off of that field, and that’s really the way that team was built.
As someone who has coached in the NFL and played under Buddy Ryan, what did you learn from Buddy that you added to your own style of coaching?
Well I think, really, just coming off of being out of the league for two years, the first year going to the NFL and wanting to know everything about how the NFL was built in New York, that last year being able to travel around the country and talk to a lot of coaches that I respected, mostly retired coaches, about offense and defense. Buddy taught me the preparation of the game, and knowing everything that I needed to know as a middle linebacker, knowing what everyone did on the defense in order to be the best that I can be myself. So as a coach, I’ve taken the time to take a step back and learn what everybody’s doing on both sides of the ball. So getting back into it I’m very excited about bringing the knowledge I have attained back to the game and seeing what happens.
Fans across the country will be excited that you are back in the NFL and working with Jeff Fisher and the St Louis Rams. What will your new role be with the team?
Well I think first and foremost, you know Jeff and I are going to continue to talk about what exactly my role would be, but [I’m] just very excited about having the opportunity to go out there and be a part of a team that I think is going to be very dynamic, and on the defensive side of the ball [I’m] excited to work with Gregg Williams, and I know they have a good staff and good people and good young players and it’s going to be very exciting, so I’m just really looking forward to being a part of that.