Growing up as ball boys for hard-nosed Chicago Bears’ teams, the future NFL defensive coordinators were exposed at a young age to the strategy of the ultra-aggressive 46 defense innovated by their father. Spending time with defensive luminaries like Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Gary Fencik and Richard Dent certainly didn’t hurt their development as football scholars.
That attention to detail and hunger to learn the game will be on display again as Rex Ryan’s Ravens (3-3) take on Rob Ryan’s Oakland Raiders (2-4) today in a rare duel of defensive coordinators that grew up in the same household.
Bragging rights are at the heart of this encounter, but the Ryan’s don’t fit the stereotype of warring brothers even though they’re incredibly competitive. A strong bond defines their relationship.
The twins like to say they never lost a fight growing up because if you took on one brother, you had to fight both of them.
"We’d fight each other every day, just kidding," Rex Ryan said. "I guess there’s some of that, but really I think when you’re twins that’s different than just brother to brother. I think we would feud with our older brother more than with each other.
"Occasionally, we’d get into it and have disagreements and things. Obviously, Sunday is a huge disagreement. We were really close and still are really close. With dad’s profession, you always took your best friend when you moved. So, that was a good thing."
The brothers were never afraid of hard work. Buddy Ryan made sure of that.
Every year, they worked on the Ryan family farm in
"That was the way we relaxed," Rob Ryan told
“Our work ethic as college kids and young coaches, it kind of blew people away, but we didn’t know any different," Rex Ryan said.
This marks the second time the Ryan brothers have faced off as NFL defensive coordinators with
That evened their personal series record as they previously opposed each other at
"We’re 3-3 now, so this is the big rubber match," Rex Ryan said. "He wanted me to know that he has two Super Bowl rings. That’s fine. I’ll let my players represent me and his can represent him, and I’ll take that every week. I’m proud of him, but I want him to win every game except this one."
For the record, Rex Ryan has one Super Bowl ring. As a family, the Ryan clan has six Super Bowl rings.
It’s not terribly difficult to tell apart the burly twins. Rex Ryan sports a short, business-like haircut, and Rob Ryan exemplifies the Raiders’ Hell’s Angel image with wild, scraggly long hair.
It’s still an uncanny resemblance. Just ask Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington, who played for Rob Ryan until being acquired in a trade from
"They sound alike, look alike, and, for the most part, you’ve got to like both of their defenses,"
Of course, they have different defensive beliefs. Rex Ryan is an advocate of an unpredictable 3-4 set, and Rob Ryan favors the 4-3 alignment.
It’s debatable where Buddy Ryan’s loyalty lies today.
"He’s a Raider fan," Rob Ryan said this week.
Rex Ryan disagreed, though.
"My dad will be on the sideline with us for a few minutes," he said. "It will be a lot of fun. But when the ball is kicked off, then he is just like anybody else. We really don’t care about each other then."
And Ravens coach John Harbaugh is counting on papa Ryan’s support.
"We’re putting our bids in for Buddy right now," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens feature the NFL’s second-ranked defense and are the top run-stopping unit in football having not allowed an opposing runner to gain 100 yards in a league-high 25 consecutive games as linebacker Ray Lewis patrols the middle with free safety Ed Reed leading the secondary.
Conversely, the Raiders rank 26th in total defense, 22nd against the pass and 24th against the run. They’ve allowed 24 points or higher four times this season despite having two talented cornerbacks in Nmandi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall as well as athletic linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.
"We’re the biggest fans of each other," Rex Ryan said. "I want him to win every week except this one. I always say, ‘Keep those guys playing well and you have a chance to be second in the league in defense,’ because I always know that we’re going to be ahead of him."
Despite the Raiders’ struggles as they’ve allowed 136 rushing yards per game and yielded 159 rushing yards to the New York Jets’ Thomas Jones in last week’s dramatic overtime win, the Ravens aren’t underestimating the
"Their record is not indicative of the way that defense plays," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "They like to do what they did in the 70s: play every guy one-on-one to see if you can win the one-on-one matchup. If you look at what they did to the Jets, they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play you one-on-one, and then we’re going to blitz you.’"
Ironically, the Raiders’ top defensive post occupied by his brother could have gone to Rex Ryan in 2004. However, former Ravens coach Brian Billick denied him permission to interview.
So, Rob Ryan got the nod after four years coaching the New England Patriots’ linebackers. Rex Ryan became the Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2005 when a since-fired Mike Nolan was hired as the
The brothers continued their weekly dialogue this week, and had plans to go out to dinner prior to kickoff.
Unlike other weeks where they’ll offer each other tips, it’s a different story. There will be no quarter asked for or received as the Ryan brothers duke it out once again.
"We’ll rip each other and all that kind of stuff," Rex Ryan said. "We’ll poke fun at each other. We all know it’s down to business Sunday, that’s for sure. It does make it special.
"You’re going against your brother, and you’re both at the highest level you can be as a coach. I know his guys will be ready. They’ll be champing at the bit to play. That’s just the way he motivates them each week, and I do the same. You’re going to feel bad for somebody, and I’d just as soon feel bad for him."