Because he is responsible for one of professional football's weirdest collections of defensive players, Buddy Ryan is receiving an awful lot of attention at the Super Bowl.

Ryan is a mild-looking man. He is 51. He has silver hair. He smokes a pipe and wears wire-rimmed glasses. He's from Oklahoma. He is pleasant to talk to, even courteous.

Now, here's the confusing part. Talk to any Chicago Bears defensive player and ask him why he plays the way he does, why he is so good and tough, and he'll almost certainly give you a two-word answer: Buddy Ryan.

To the Bears, who have had the National Football League's No. 1 defense two years running, defensive coordinator Ryan is a mean, loud, sarcastic, brutally honest human being.

"This would be just another average pro football defense without him," defensive tackle Steve McMichael, no charm-school graduate, said today.

Ryan, the mastermind of the punishing 46 defense and the brains behind the only defense to shut out two opponents in the playoffs, also is the master of the put-down.

He makes players better by telling them how bad they are.

"When I came here, it was like a cold wall hit me," said Pro Bowl linebacker Otis Wilson. "I almost couldn't take it, someone cussing me out, saying I wasn't worth anything. I began to realize Buddy's a unique person. He's like a whiz. He must sit home like a chemist in a lab and make these things up."

It happens to the rookies and to six-year veterans such as Wilson, perhaps the defense's most energized and emotional member.

"This week, he's telling me the tight end's gonna beat the hell out of me. He's saying, 'You might as well go home now.' "

The Bears defenders were scattered around the spacious interview room at their hotel on the Mississippi this morning, all telling the same story.

"He told me I was too short, too slow, too fat and not smart," said Pro Bowl middle linebacker Mike (Samurai) Singletary.

"He was trying to find my hot button, how much he could push, where I'd react. Once I realized that, I respected him . . . . He'll be the best guy you'll ever know."

Ryan defends himself quietly.

"Back in the old days, when teachers had authority and respect, if you didn't know what you were supposed to know, your history teacher could yell at you."

With the Bears, Ryan drills the game plan into his players, then gives them a written test before the game.

"If they don't pass, they take it again and again, until they do," he said.

"None of them is perfect. I think I've got a right to get mad at them, don't you?"

Ryan had another name for Singletary when he came to the Bears in 1981 from Baylor, where he broke 16 helmets in his college career: Singletree. Ryan thought his middle linebacker was so slow he might grow roots.

Ryan was wrong. Singletary is quick enough -- and now is Ryan's confidant on the field, the man who calls the signals (once Ryan sends them in) for the Chicago defense.

There's an Izod alligator over his heart and a serious glare behind his horn rims, but no one knows Singletary, 27, the way Ryan does.

The night the coaches write the game plan, Singletary sits outside their door, waiting. When Ryan pops out, Singletary takes a copy of the plays and goes home. He sits up well into the night, memorizing the script.

By the next morning, when every other player is receiving the game plan, Singletary knows it all.

"It took me about a year and a half to get comfortable with both the defense and Buddy Ryan," he said today. "It's extremely difficult to get everything down. We do so many different things.

"It's a fun defense," he continued. "We have a chance to apply pressure, not give them the opportunity to make the first move. For a defense, that's different."

For this defense, Singletary's different. On New Year's Eve, he sat in the players' motel in Suwanee, Ga., and watched game films.

Ryanism of the Week, to date: Asked how rookie defensive tackle William (The Refrigerator) Perry will do against New England Pro Bowl left guard John Hannah, Ryan said, "I think the big fatso is gonna do pretty good."

Rookie linebacker Jim Morrissey thought it was a mistake. One of the equipment managers handed him a jersey with No. 51 on it last summer.

A roster he had seen said he would be No. 61. Certainly not 51. He grew up watching the Detroit Lions and he knew that was Dick Butkus' number.

Well, the roster Morrissey saw was wrong. Left unretired, No. 51 is all Morrissey's now.

During the season, Morrissey asked Butkus, now a Bears radio announcer, if it was all right if he wore his number.

"It's okay, kid," Butkus told him.

Morrissey, a special teams player, wears a size-44 No. 51, which is much smaller than the one Butkus wore, he said.

"He was probably 40 pounds heavier," said Morrissey, who weighs 215. "Obviously, this is not the same jersey."

Still, Morrissey thinks he should not be wearing Butkus' number.

"They had No. 53 available, and 56," he said. "They probably should have given me one of those."

Defensive end Richard Dent has gained a ferocious reputation recently, in part because he has had 4 1/2 sacks and 8 1/2 tackles in two playoff shutouts, in part because he and his agent have been talking about a contract boycott of the Super Bowl, an idea they apparently left behind in Chicago.

This side of Dent would have been discovered long ago if only more people knew about what happened in Tennessee State's homecoming game in 1982.

Dent was a senior then, quite a bit lighter than his 263 pounds, and quite unknown. Early in that game with Grambling, he fractured a bone in his left wrist. It hurt terribly, but he refused to leave the field.

"My mother had come in for the game," he said. "It was the first time she ever got to see me play, and I didn't want to leave the game. I had to play."

He finished with four sacks to break the school career record. He also made seven tackles.

"Four sacks with one arm," Dent said. "A lot of people were really tripping on that."

When he finally went to the hospital to get his wrist fixed, doctors put one plate and six screws into the bone. A long, ugly scar still travels up the inside of his arm.

Dent also had problems with his teeth that he acknowledged might have kept him from gaining weight in college.

After Dent was selected in the eighth round of the 1983 draft, his agent asked the Bears if they would include dental work in his contract. Apparently, most of Dent's back teeth were rotten.

Dent said he has had "a couple" of root canals done and has no more pain in his mouth.

Whether his teeth were the cause of his weight problems, no one knows. But it should be noted he has gained about 40 pounds as a pro.