LOUSY FOOTBALL, PART ONE: THE CARDINALS
When you walk through the front door of Buddy Ryan's bar on Washington Street, the first thing that hits you is the huge trophy case on your right.
There are no trophies. You have to win something to get a trophy. In case you haven't noticed, Ryan's team doesn't do much of that. Instead, the bins in the trophy case are filled with Buddy Ryan tee shirts, Buddy Ryan caps and Buddy Ryan sweat shirts. There are also Buddy Ryan license plates. If you are so inclined, there are also Frisbees with a Buddy Ryan logo on them. The only thing missing is a voodoo doll of Billy Bidwill, the Cardinals' porcine owner. It would be a nice touch. You could stick another pin in him every Sunday afternoon.
The message on the Buddy Ryan paraphernalia is priceless, making them automatic collectors' items. The message, based on Ryan's now-famous declaration, reads: "You've Got a Winner in Town."
When you open the inner door to the bar on a game day, such as last Sunday, you see a huge, oblong bar in the center of the room. I don't have an accurate count, but there might be 20 television sets along both walls and attached to the overhang of the bar. The only decent-size television set was up against the wall in the left front of the room with a sign that read: "Compliments of Silo." In front of the television were two totally grotesque stuffed chairs. Both chairs were covered by plastic depicting the range of professional sports. The lucky Ryan fan who fills out the winning entry will get to take the chairs home with him.
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The Cardinals game was in the third quarter when I arrived. The first thing I heard was a man at the bar saying that the television set from Silo had been moved in by Coach Ryan's two sons. This was greeted with much approval.
"I'm sure glad to hear that," a man by the cash register said. "Now at least I know why they're on the Cardinals' coaching staff."
That caused another wag to pop up with what I thought was an unnecessarily unkind remark:
"And what is it you think the offensive line coach does?"
That was quickly followed by one from another outraged Ryanite.
"Not to mention the offensive coordinator," he growled.
My purpose in making the trip to Ryan's was to see part of the game and observe diehard fans of Ryan in the throes of despair over what was happening to their heroes at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.
I confess I also wanted to see what an actual Ryanite looked like.
Life is built on coincidence. I have become a huge fan of those zany, dark-spirited commercials actor Dennis Hopper has made for the National Football League. Sometimes they look to me like outtakes from Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.
You know the ones I mean. Hopper seems either demented or homeless. He wears filthy clothes, slouches and keeps shouting in demented fashion about how much he loves the NFL. It's all very offbeat. I'm certain it offends the sensibilities of many. But I like Dennis Hopper, and I hope the NFL keeps running the commercials.
I bring up Hopper because most of the regulars in Buddy Ryan's look like they belong to the same club as the maniacal Hopper. I decided at once that this was part of the charm of Buddy Ryan's place. Most in the Ryan fan club looked to me like they had abandoned their strategic spot on the corner just before the kickoff and hid their "Will Work for Food" signs in the alley outside. Although the radio commercials tell you what a lively place Ryan's is, there weren't more than 20 people there for the Browns game. Most were watching not the Cardinals, but the New York Jets-Miami game. Apparently, they had already given up on Jim McMahon and Buddy Ball.
One middle-aged man, Solly, a Jets fan, wore a green Jets cap over a green Jets tee shirt. Solly also had green striped sweat socks. When the Jets scored, Solly leaped to his feet as if he were Boomer Esiason, the Jets quarterback who had actually thrown the pass. Then Solly danced around with his arms high over his head, the way I had seen Joe Montana do for Kansas City the week before against the San Francisco 49ers.
But things were about to turn ugly for Solly.
Pretty soon, Miami started scoring touchdowns. Each time Miami scored, Solly would smash his Jets hat on the floor and then kick it over and over again until he had kicked his Jets hat all the way to the wall.
Then Solly would pick up his hat and place it back on his head again.
"Do you want another draft beer?" the waitress asked.
Solly could not be consoled. "I'll have another beer only when the Jets score another touchdown," he said.
He looked over at his companion.
"You know something?" Solly said. "The Jets scored while you was in the men's room. Why don'tcha go back in there? We have to pull out all the stops."
I left for home and listened to the final minutes of Buddy Ryan's Cleveland debacle on my car radio. The score was already 25 to 0, and even announcer John Mistler admitted the outcome was bleak.
"You know," Mistler said, "the big trouble with losing six or seven games in a row is that it gets hard to have a successful season." That Mistler, he's really an observant guy.
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