From T.O. to Broadway

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

The kid who sat beside me in Grade 12 geography class at York Mills Collegiate turned to a group of us one day and announced: "My dad coaches in the NFL."

And after we stopped laughing, we went on the next subject.

"No," the kid insisted. "You want to go the Bills game this weekend? I can get free tickets. I'll get the tickets, all you have to do is come up with a lift."

None of us were about to argue about free tickets, even if we weren't sure about the veracity of the coaching story. We didn't know Jimmy Ryan all that well. He was new to the school. But, hey, free tickets were free tickets.

We didn't know his father was Buddy Ryan; we didn't know that name at that time. We thought we knew the NFL. We just thought the story was too far-fetched. Who in Toronto goes to school with a kid whose father coaches in the NFL?

My dad sold blouses. The other fathers I knew best were accountants, office workers, manufacturers or clothing store operators.

So we got in the car, drove to Buffalo, and there waiting for us were free tickets. That was cool. The day got better when we opened the massive NFL program and saw the name beside linebacker coach, New York Jets: Buddy Ryan.

When the game ended we were told to wait in a certain area. We stood there. Jim disappeared to see his dad. When he returned, he was holding some black and white photographs, one of them remains framed in my office to this day, autographed with a green pen, the colour of the Jets. "To Steve," it reads, "Peace. Joe Namath."

I was staring at the photo yesterday in the wake of the news that Rex Ryan has been hired as the head coach of the New York Jets. Rex is Jimmy's younger brother, Buddy's son.

The first NFL head coach to come from Windfields Junior High.

The only NFL head coach to claim he skipped school to attend the first Blue Jays game in 1977.

We knew him then as one of the annoying twins. He was five years younger than us, living in the townhouses at York Mills and Bayview, forever scooting around on his bicycle with his brother, Rob, wreaking havoc.

"My brother and I were a bit of a handful," Rex told me in an interview a few years back.

"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 (then at the University of Toronto).

"I think she realized at a certain age it was best if we move in with our dad."

When Buddy Ryan was hired as the defensive co-ordinator of the Minnesota Vikings in 1976, his three boys eventually followed him to the Twin Cities.

That year, Jimmy enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he went on to become a lawyer. A little more than a year later, the twins moved in with their dad.

This week, Rex signed a four-year $11-million US deal with the Jets. Just recently, Rob left the Oakland Raiders for the defensive co-ordinator's position with the Cleveland Browns. The crazy kids on their bikes are both big-name millionaire coaches now.

A long way from the football fields of Toronto, where their mom signed them up for minor football during the 1970s. Two games in, both were kicked out of the league for being too rough.

The truth on Buddy Ryan: He didn't want his kids to become coaches, telling them about his divorce, how often he moved around, how unstable it was. And then he told them: "You're going to have to do this on your own."

The only time he had it out and nasty with one of his kids was when Jimmy told him he wanted to be a sports writer. That he wanted no part of.


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