Happy birthday to Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bears (and yes, I guess we can say New Orleans Saints) coach Mike Ditka on Thursday, who turned 73. The NFL hasn't been the same since he roamed the sidelines.
This got me thinking, with Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll set to square off on NFL Network on Thursday night, it's time to take a look at the six greatest coaching feuds in NFL history. And do you think it's a coincidence Harbaugh and Carroll's teams are playing on Ditka's birthday? Yeah, I guess it probably is.
But let's not stop us from counting down the list. And before you race into the comment section with your hilarious, biting commentary asking why Al Davis vs. Mike Shanahan wasn't there, or maybe Andy Reid and Terrell Owens, let's just say this must be two coaches. Not a coach and a player. Not a coach and an owner. Capisce? I don't want to race down there and see someone ask, "Where is A.J. Smith and Marty Schottenheimer?"
And for the record, I won't add Carroll and Harbaugh to this list until something cool like the "What's your deal" game from their USC and Stanford days happens again.
And without further ado ...
Todd Haley and Josh McDaniels
This feud had the potential of being one of the game's all-timers. The best was when Haley sternly lectured McDaniels after a game, much like a grumpy old man would bark at his neighbor for an HOA violation. "Get your trash cans off the curb, and stop running up the score!" Sadly (for us), neither man lasted very long as a head coach and they have resumed their roles as offensive coordinators.
Mike Ditka and Forrest Gregg
The Bears and the Packers have been long-time adversaries, but the rivalry between George Halas and Vince Lombardi was based in mutual respect (after all, Halas recommended Lombardi for the Packers' gig). Ditka and Gregg had nothing but contempt for each other. And this rivalry took an ugly turn when Charles Martin drove Jim McMahon into the solid Soldier Field turf in 1986. The move essentially cost the Bears a chance to repeat as champions, and really, the 1986 Bears defense was better than the previous year. How might the Bears had been viewed in history if this didn't happen?
Jimmy Johnson and Buddy Ryan
Coach Ryan certainly rubbed people the wrong way (and it's fair to say he might make this list again), but this feud went to another level when then-Cowboys coach Johnson accused Ryan of targeting his kicker during a game. Of course, this could have really grown into something big, but the Cowboys became a dynasty in the 1990s, and Ryan was eventually fired and resurfaced in Arizona.
Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy
You might think Belichick vs. Eric Mangini deserves a mention here. But that rivalry was about as competitive as John Cena vs. David Otunga. No, Belichick and Dungy had a rather understated feud, one that you might have missed given Dungy's quiet demeanor. Or passive-aggressive demeanor would probably be more accurate. But Dungy was one of Belichick's harshest critics after Spygate and he continues to be critical of the Patriots coach from the broadcast booth.
George Allen and Tom Landry
One of the best rivalries from the 1970s and 80s was the Cowboys and Redskins. And really, everybody from the Minnesota Vikings, the Los Angeles Rams and the rest of the NFC East considered the Cowboys their rivals. But it was Allen who really embraced the enmity, feeding into the lore of Cowboys and Indians, to grow this into legendary proportions. And for that, I say "hip, hip hooray!"
Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan
What's great about this rivalry is Ditka and Ryan actually worked together. Well, sort of. Ryan was the defensive coordinator for the Bears and he really didn't care to take orders from Ditka. (Ryan even once refused to call off the dogs after the Bears were crushing the Cowboys, 44-0, in 1985.) And remember the image of Ryan punching his offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in Houston? Ryan and Ditka had to be separated after the team's only loss in 1985, in Miami. The exclamation point was added when the Bears defensive players lifted Ryan on their shoulders after Super Bowl XX.