Ryan reflects on Korean War experience

ON THE NFL

July 30, 1995|By VITO STELLINO

For Arizona Cardinals coach Buddy Ryan, there will be special meaning to the team's trip to Washington for the season opener Sept. 3 against the Redskins.

Not because it's the opener, or that the Cardinals are seeking their third consecutive victory at RFK Stadium.

What's special is that it will be Ryan's first chance to visit the new Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington.

It's not the forgotten war for Ryan. He fought in it as a teen-ager, and the memories are still vivid.

Ryan, who usually doesn't leave his hotel room on the road except to go to the stadium for the game, visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial last year when the team was in Washington.

The trip to the Korean War memorial will be personal for Ryan, who arrived on the Korean front on Christmas Day in 1951.

He had enlisted in the National Guard at the age of 17 in his hometown of Frederick, Okla., because his friends were doing it to earn $10 a week. He thought it was easy money.

His father warned him that if there was a war, Ryan would be in the first group to go. His father was right. Ryan's unit was mobilized, and he was shipped to Fort Polk, La.

"I pulled KP almost every day," he said. "My attitude wasn't exactly what it ought to be."

Once he got to Korea, he said, he decided, "I would be the best soldier I could be."

He quickly was promoted to platoon sergeant, sergeant first class and master sergeant.

"I led by natural ability, even though I didn't know it," he said.

He said he was too "young and dumb" to be scared. But he saw his buddies die, and even rescued one from a rice paddy after the friend had been shot in the shoulder.

Ryan came back from the war and enrolled at Oklahoma State, where he was a four-year letterman in football, playing guard and linebacker. He has coached since graduating in 1957, and he never lost the drill sergeant mentality.

Class of 1995

The draft class of 1995 isn't exactly getting off to a fast start.

Of the first four players taken in April, only one -- Houston Oilers quarterback Steve McNair, the third selection -- is on the field.

The first two players, running back Ki-Jana Carter of the Cincinnati Bengals and offensive tackle Tony Boselli of the Jacksonville Jaguars, are injured. Carter is out a week or two with a strained Achilles' tendon; Boselli is out for two months with a knee injury.

The fourth player, wide receiver Michael Westbrook, is holding out on the Washington Redskins, and it seems certain he'll stay out longer than Heath Shuler did last year when he missed the first 13 days.

The Redskins don't want to give Westbrook a contract with voidable years even though the San Francisco 49ers gave that kind of a deal to the third receiver taken, J. J. Stokes, who went in the 10th spot.

The Redskins gave a voidable-year contract to Shuler but are arguing that a receiver shouldn't get one.

The Deion watch

When Deion Sanders was traded to the San Francisco Giants, the paranoid fans in Dallas immediately suggested that the 49ers had arranged the deal to make it easier for them to re-sign Sanders.

But imagine the controversy if he had been traded to the Florida Marlins, who said they tried to make a deal for him.

Wayne Huizenga owns the Marlins and Dolphins. He could have overpaid Sanders as a baseball player as a package deal to get him to sign with the Dolphins.

"We can't play games. [Commissioner Paul] Tagliabue is a smart guy. He wouldn't let that happen for three seconds. There's no way," he said. "Not only that, if we could, we wouldn't. We've got to be at arm's length on this deal."

Such a move could have hurt Huizenga's bid to stay in the league. The NFL has a rule forbidding an owner to own teams in another sport.

When Huizenga bought the team, he agreed that if the rule wasn't changed by 1996, he would sell the Dolphins or his other two teams -- the Marlins and the NHL's Florida Panthers.

Tagliabue still doesn't have the votes to change the rule, so he recently moved the deadline to 1997. And because the NFL often ignores its own rules, nobody expects Huizenga to be forced out.

Extra points

The Denver Broncos will play the San Francisco 49ers in an exhibition game Aug. 6 in Tokyo. It happens to be the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. . . . McNair of the Oilers has been nicknamed "McMillionaire" by some of his teammates after signing a seven-year, $28.4 million deal. The contract is 50 pages long. Wide receiver Haywood Jeffires said, "I definitely want to get him in some of our card games because I have a mortgage to pay." . . . Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to lose the starting job to Craig Erickson, said, "Everyone is going to be accountable if we don't go to the playoffs." The Colts haven't been to the playoffs in a nonstrike year since 1977, when they were in Baltimore.

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