When Buddy Ryan's Eagles turned joint practices with the Lions into a brawl

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When Buddy Ryan's Eagles turned joint practices into a brawl originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joint practices are civilized events.

Coaches want their players to be intense, practice hard and be physical without going over the line. They want practices tough but clean. Fighting is frowned upon. Because fighting leads to injuries and that defeats the purpose of joint practices.

It’s been eight years since the Eagles and Patriots held joint practices at the NovaCare Complex, and as soon as Cary Williams and Aaron Dobson began fighting, Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick removed them from the rest of that day’s practice.

It wasn’t always that way.

Let’s go back to the summer of 1986 and Eagles-Lions joint practices at Oakland College in Rochester, Michigan, which was the Lions' training camp home from 1975 through 1989.

The Eagles held joint practices with the Lions in Rochester in the summer of 1985, and they went smoothly and uneventfully. So Eagles and Lions officials scheduled another series of practices for 1986. 

But Buddy Ryan replaced Marion Campbell as Eagles head coach after the 1985 season, and everything changed.

Everything.

Civilized? Not even close.

Taking their cue from Ryan, who six months earlier had led the Bears to the Super Bowl championship, the Eagles brought bluster, cockiness and aggression to the practices that the Lions players and coaches simply wanted no part of.

Practices turned into sparring matches. Drills turned into fights. Trash talk turned into brawls.

In most cases, the Eagles won.

Mike Quick, now the Eagles’ radio analyst, was a wide receiver on that Eagles team, and his face lit up during an Eagles practice at the NovaCare Complex last week when he recalled the 1986 joint practices.

“It was just constant fights,” Quick said. “That was Buddy's first year and he was trying to establish that we were going to be the toughest team in the league, and the Lions didn't want any part of it." 

In the middle of everything was the late Andre Waters, an undrafted safety from Cheyney University who at the time was a young special teamer but eventually became a very good — and very physical — starter for the Eagles.

“Andre was fighting everybody,” Quick said with a laugh. “Buddy loved it.”

Lions coach Darryl Rogers didn’t love it.

He and Ryan sparred through the press, each accusing the other of ruining the week for the other team.

“They don’t have the same tempo that we like to play at,” Ryan said according to an article by Phil Anastasia in the Aug. 7, 1986, Courier-Post. “When we went to Atlanta three times when I was with the Bears we had great practices. (These) were almost a waste of time for us. They ruined our tempo, turned the day into a total waste.

“They ruined our tempo because they laid down. Wallowed.”

Ryan said when the week was over he would never bring his team back to Michigan.

“He hasn’t been invited back,” Rogers said, adding, “Buddy doesn’t work on the positives.”

As soon as the Eagles arrived in Michigan, Buddy changed the practice schedule and moved the team’s training equipment from the Silverdome in Pontiac to the hotel lobby without even asking hotel officials.

“If the university doesn’t like it, maybe they’ll throw us out of here,” Ryan said according to an Aug. 7, 1986, Angelo Cataldi article in the Inquirer.

The Eagles didn’t get thrown out, but Ryan made it clear he couldn’t wait to leave once the two teams played their preseason game at the end of the week.

“We’ll have the game and get the hell out of this town,” Ryan said. “Back where they’ve got towels and soap and that sort of thing.”

Although the Lions didn’t fight back for the most part during the three days of practice, one player did.

That was William Frizzell, a 24-year-old safety and special teamer the Lions had drafted in the 10th round in 1984.

Ryan noticed that he was the only guy on the Lions who didn’t back down when fights were breaking out all over the field.

The Lions wound up releasing Frizzell after training camp, and when Ryan cut fullback Mike Waters on Oct. 8, who did he sign to take his roster spot?

Frizzell.

“He was the only one who was fighting back,” said Ryan, who nicknamed Frizzell “Lefty” after the legendary country singer also named William “Lefty” Frizzell. “I liked him up in Detroit because he was doing all the fighting with our guys.”

That was all 35 years ago. 

The Eagles and Lions haven’t held joint practices together since.

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