Strip away the tinsel and phoniness of Hollywood, the late Oscar Levant once advised, and you get to the real tinsel and phoniness underneath.

Strip away the gruffness and bluster of Buddy Ryan and, well, you get a few laughs, along with the real gruffness and bluster.Is Ryan the loathsome character we've come to imagine, the guy who as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles reputedly offered his players greenback dollars to maim opponents, the guy who growls, "I don't see enough toughness."

Even if he isn't, the world believes he is, and that's fine with Ryan. Intimidation is as much an art form as sculpture.

"Buddy's persona is creating monsters," said Joe Theismann.

The monster James "Buddy" Ryan helped create has won nine straight games and - Merry Christmas to you all - today comes to Candlestick Park to play the San Francisco 49ers.

Ryan is defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers. The owner hired him without consulting the head coach, Jack Pardee. But only after the Oilers blew that 35-3 third-quarter lead in last season's playoffs against Buffalo.

Asked what Pardee thought about his arrival, Ryan, His Churlishness, declared, "I'm here to save his job."

Ryan's job now is to stop the 49ers and their top-ranked offense, which in part means stopping quarterback Steve Young, the top-rated passer in the NFL.

Remembering the 1989 game in which Ryan's Eagles sacked Joe Montana, then the 49ers' QB, eight times, one surmises that with Buddy, all things are possible.

"I don't know if you can really stop the 49ers," Ryan said, thereby showing even ornery defensive coordinators can be diplomatic.

"You just can slow them down."

"One thing we have to do," he explained, alluding to the mobility of Jerry Rice and John Taylor after receptions, "is to tackle those people well so they don't turn three-yard passes into 98-yard touchdowns."

When he was with the Chicago Bears, Ryan originated the 46 defense, a blend of blitzes, zones and coverages that has been copied by coaches from high school to pro.

"It's the best system in football," said Ryan, "but like other systems, you need the players. When we added Wilber Marshall to this team, we added the toughness we needed and got more physical. That's what was missing early in the season."

The Oilers have 44 sacks, second in the NFL. The Oilers have 23 interceptions, sharing the lead with Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

"If we hadn't turned the ball over so many times ourselves," Ryan said, "we'd have two or three more wins."

As it is, they have 10, in 14 games, same as the 49ers.

In the '89 game, Montana kept going down under a rush that sent as many as eight men after the quarterback. But Montana got up to lead San Francisco to victory.

"We missed some tackles," said Ryan, "they made some big plays and beat us. Joe was very good. But he doesn't run like Steve Young. We had our guy, Randall Cunningham, who could also run. They add something to the position. I'd rather have a mobile quarterback on my side, not against me."

Which is where Young will be.

Ryan hopes to keep him busy watching.

"Our offense has to control the ball, keep the 49ers' offense off the field. In the '84 playoffs, when I was with Bears, we held the 49ers to six points in the first half. But we couldn't get anything. It was 6-0. If you don't score, you can't win no matter how well the defense plays.

"You see those big wideouts," said Ryan of Rice and Taylor, "see that quarterback, look down at the stats and know it's going to be a problem. We did a good job against Atlanta, and they've got great receivers, but not as good as these guys. And a quarterback who can run, too."

The Oilers have injured defensive backs.

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But they have Buddy Ryan, who lives by this precept: "There comes a time when you have to bloody somebody's nose."

Dracula couldn't have been more explicit.

"What we've got to do against Young," said Ryan, "is to mix up the coverages, not give him any free reads after the ball is snapped."

In other words, create chaos.

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