Brothers on the sidelines

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

On Opening Day in 1977, Rex and Rob Ryan did what a lot of Toronto kids did: They skipped Grade 9, used their paper route money and found a way to take in the Blue Jays' first game.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Rex Ryan who, along with his brother, went on to do something a lot of local kids have never done: Win a Super Bowl.

Or in Rob's case, win two.

Rex is the defensive co-ordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, who just might be the best defensive team in football.

Rob is the defensive co-ordinator for the Oakland Raiders, who just might be the worst offensive team in football.

"We weren't much into school back then," Rex said.

"We had a morning paper route and an afternoon paper route. We were like professional papers boys. We made our own money and it seemed like we had a lot of it.

"Still remember the two home runs by Doug Ault, remember Al Woods hitting a homer in his first at-bat. Those are things that stay with you forever."

Rex and Rob Ryan, sons of the legendary coach Buddy Ryan, spent their formative years in Toronto, products of a divorced family, played their house league hockey at York Mills (coincidentally, so did Orel Hershiser), and spent only a brief time in minor football.

"I think we were eight or nine when we signed up for football," Rex said. "It was the only football we played in Toronto. We played two games and got kicked out of the league, I think it was for spearing. We were too rough for the other kids. My mom said it was because we knew how to play and nobody else did.

ON THE FRINGE

"My brother and I were a bit of a handful. We were always in trouble, always on the fringe. We skipped a lot of school. We were kind of wild. My grades were atrocious, I'm not kidding you. Anyone who grew up with us would be amazed that we both have masters degrees. I never did any school work, and my mother was a university professor. I think she realized at a certain age it was best we move in with our dad."

So at 15, they moved from Toronto to Minnesota, where Buddy Ryan coached on the Minnesota Vikings staff, and then to Chicago, where their dad became famous with the Bears Super Bowl defence.

"We loved football and grew up around the game," Rex said. "In the summer we were always ballboys at training camp. I grew up knowing Walter Payton and Alan Page and before that Joe Namath. I think that helped us when we became coaches. We weren't intimidated by stars because we had grown up around them.

"We played high school football (in the States) but we weren't real good at it."

They were good enough -- and with a push behind them -- to get football scholarships at SW Oklahoma State University.

"It was the only place that would have taken us," Rex said. "We knew we wanted to become coaches but dad was against it. Like a lot of kids, we just wanted to do what our fathers did. But he didn't want us doing it."

Just like they were at Windfield's Junior High in Willowdale and Forest Manor Public School in Don Mills, the twins were inseparable in college.

They played together, lived together.

"Tell you how close we were, we lived out of one wallet. There was no sense having two of anything."

For the record, Rob could not be interviewed for this story. The Raiders do not allow assistant coaches to talk to the media.

"Rob was the wilder of the two of us," Rex said. "I think I had my share of fights, but Rob had a hair trigger. He could go off on you. I think you see that on the sidelines sometimes (with the Raiders).

NATURAL SPLIT

"We were always together until I got married. That was the natural split. He had to go out on his own. It was kind of weird."

Both kids lived the nomadic life most football coaches endure. A job here, a job there, the gradual move up the coaching ladder.

Nothing comes quickly in professional football.

But the Ryan twins fiercely hold on to million-dollar coaching positions now, and on to championship rings the family is so proud of.

Rob won two Super Bowls from his time on the staff of the New England Patriots. Rex won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and is a contender again this year. Buddy won two, one as defensive co-ordinator of the Bears, his first with Namath's shocking New York Jets.

"You think about it, how many Grey Cups has Toronto won in our lifetime? And that's what? One out of nine (now eight) chances to win?" said Rex, who, like his brother, turns 44 next week.

"We have five Super Bowl rings in our family alone. One out of 32 chances? Five in our family.

"That's pretty amazing."


Videos

Photos