Joe Gibbs and Buddy Ryan both were head coaches in the NFC East. Other than that they had absolutely nothing in common.
Gibbs was respectful of opponents, careful to say the right thing, and never swore. Ryan, who passed away today at the age of 82, routinely used language that would make a sailor blush and he was the king of trash talking the other team.
Over the five years that Ryan the coach in Philadelphia, Gibbs got the better of him on the field. The Redskins went 8-3 against Ryan’s Eagles. But Buddy and his abrasive style did get under Gibbs’ skin over the years. Things came to a peak between the two in a game midway through the 1990 season. During a Monday night game in Philadelphia nine Redskins had to be helped off of the field and three went on injured reserve.
As more and more Redskins were carted off, one Eagles player yelled, “You guys need any more body bags out there!” Because of that the 28-14 Eagles win was dubbed the Body Bag Game. That Monday night turned into short-term bragging rights for the Eagles and some long-term motivation for the Redskins.
After the loss the Redskins were 5-4 and their playoff hopes were in trouble. But they rallied to win six of their last seven games and they earned a wild card spot. They would return to the scene of the disaster for the first round of the playoffs as they drew the Eagles in Veterans Stadium in the first round.
When facing the press in the days prior to a game, Gibbs was usually overly gracious in his comments about the opposition, making a 2-10 outfit sound like the '60's Packers and their coach the second coming of St. Vincent. Not this week, though. When asked about Ryan, Gibbs stood stone-faced and talked about the challenges ahead.
One reporter caught Gibbs in an unguarded moment. It was the day before the game. Snow had fallen on New Year’s Eve and the journalist noted that the snow still covered Gibbs’ car in the parking lot at Redskins Park. In the hallway, the more Gibbs talked about Buddy, the madder he got. "I live to play a game like this one. I live to play this guy," Gibbs said, turning red-faced with rage. While this was hardly headline material or Eagle bulletin board fodder, it was very telling of the mood of the coach and team. They were clearly on a mission as they entered the Vet for the game.
At the end it was mission accomplished. They spotted the Eagles a 6-0 lead and then rattled off 20 unanswered points for the win.
The loss turned out to be Ryan’s last with the Eagles. He was fired the day after the game.
For the Redskins, however, the Body Bag Game was a springboard to a championship. Motivated by the beating, the Redskins buckled down to a run for one more title. After the loss to the Eagles they had four losses in 1990. They lost just five of their next 28 games, culminating with Gibbs’ third and final Super Bowl title.