You might have missed the symbolism of the Chicago Bears scoring 46 points in Super Bowl XX on Sunday.

In case you did, several Bears defenders offered a reminder about who they felt was most responsible for their 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots. Moments after Coach Mike Ditka was raised on some of his players' shoulders for a victory ride, these defenders gave a ride to defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

Ryan is 51 years old, squat and feisty, a coaching veteran of 17 seasons. He is also the mastermind of the Bears' "46" defense, which just happened to be the master code to victory in the NFL this year.

When the question arose as to whether the Bears' defense rates as the best of all time, defensive end Dan Hampton said, "There's going to be a lot of conjecture. I would vote for us, because if you take away those 'gimme three' on (New England's) first drive because of the offensive fumble and then that seven didn't mean anything (in the fourth quarter) . . . , I don't know, I think you could make a pretty strong argument for us."

"We're the best of all time. No question," Bears safety Dave Duerson said, going one step further. "Look at the total yards. That'll tell you."

It was hard to figure what was the most impressive aspect of Chicago's defensive effort Sunday, one that helped defensive end Richard Dent win the game's most valuable player award. Was it that the Bears limited the Patriots to 123 total yards, of which only seven came on the ground? Or that they tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks (which included a safety), or that they forced six turnovers that led to 26 points?

Likely, the most impressive aspect was that none of these numbers were surprising, because we had seen this all happen about 17 times before. The Bears (18-1) had become, after all, the first team since Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain in 1978 to yield fewer than 200 points in a 16-game season. They gave up 198, three more than the Steelers.

"Offenses had better learn to do something against their defense before everyone (in the league) learns the defense," said Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan. "It could be the end of offense in the NFL."

Defense has become the place for the NFL's wonder workers these days. Over the past few years, coaches such as Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs were spinning scoring magic on offense. Now, maybe the defenses have caught up. At least Ryan's has.

Duerson seemed quite certain when he said, "We'll be back (to the Super Bowl) next year as long as we have Buddy."

It is possible that Ryan won't be back in Chicago next season. He has been mentioned as a strong candidate for the head coaching vacancy in Philadelphia, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals have asked the Bears for permission to interview him.

"I'll entertain anything and if I think it's the right deal, I'll take it," Ryan said. "If it isn't, I'll be with the Bears. I've got a good job now."

"His defense was tremendous," Ditka said. "If he wants to be a head coach, there is a chance we could lose him. That would be a tremendous loss."

"We started out the year with a chip on our shoulder," Bears safety Gary Fencik said, "and we carried it all the way through the Super Bowl."

It had been theorized that the way to beat Ryan's 46 defense was to use the quarterback rollout, supported with a floating pocket. That was the antidote Miami used in the 38-24 victory over Chicago in Week 13.

The Patriots, usually a run-oriented team, began with seven pass attempts in their first 10 plays, but quarterback Tony Eason didn't roll out much. He couldn't. He didn't have time.

"You guys all think that's the way to beat us," Ryan told the media about the quarterback rollout, "but, you know, when you've got Dent sitting on one side and Otis (Wilson) on the other, I think there's not a hell of a lot of room to roll."

The Patriots (14-6) had forced 16 turnovers in the three previous postseason games, transforming them into 61 points. They forced two fumbles Sunday, transforming them into three points.

The Bears forced six turnovers.

"Whether we rank with Doomsday, the Steel Curtain, the Purple People Eaters, it's unfair to say we're better. But history was set today," Bears linebacker Mike Singletary said following the rout. "I think we will be seen as one of the best teams of all time."