Mike Ditka is a Chitown Legend -
Do you think he moves the way he moves today because he left anything on the field?
Mike Ditka is a Chitown Legend!
Tough guys are to the NFL as drunks are to a fraternity party: It’s not really a question of whether a given player (kickers excepted) is tough, but more a matter of degree. Chicago, too, has seen it’s fair share of tough guys. Whether it was Al Capone or Richard J. Daley, Nelson Algren or Bill Murray, the City of the Big Shoulders has never lacked for guys willing to tell the rest of the world where to stick it.
It’s no small thing, then, that the first name usually heard in a conversation about Chicago’s NFL history – a history that includes names like Halas, Butkus and Singletary – is Ditka. Is some of Iron Mike’s status the result of the popularity of a certain Saturday Night Live skit, or maybe the good fortune to have presided over perhaps the greatest collection of talent in NFL history in 1985?
The answer is no. You think it’s easy having Buddy Ryan, Jim McMahon and Otis Wilson all working for you? You think there’s any pressure when your players collectively and publicly claim the Lombardi Trophy as theirs in November? Do you think he moves the way he moves today because he left anything on the field?
And as for the SNL skit, De Niro – playing Capone – put it best in The Untouchables: “Like a lotta things in life, we laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s true.” The name Ditka means what it means, whether in Solder Field or Timbuktu, because of the way the man played and coached the game of football.
It’s A Bad Game For Anybody Who’s Faint of Heart…
Ditka came into the league out of the University of Pittsburgh in 1961, drafted by the Chicago Bears as a Tight End. In the early 1960’s, the game of football was vastly different than it is now. A legitimate passing attack was clearly secondary to a strong run game, and the tight end position, to that point, was a fairly novel idea. Starting in his rookie season, Ditka had a profound impact on the tight end position and on the game of football in general, catching for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Over the course of his twelve-year career, Ditka amassed 5,812 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns, and cemented the significance of the tight end position in the NFL. In 1988, Ditka became the first player to have played exclusively tight end to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Ditka’s greatest contribution to the game was the work he did on the sidelines rather than on the field. In the same year as his retirement as a player in 1972, Ditka was brought on as an assistant coach by then-Cowboys head coach and NFL legend Tom Landry. Under Landry and Ditka, the Cowboys experienced tremendous success, including a Super Bowl victory over the Broncos during the 1977 season. George Halas, then the owner of the Chicago Bears, sought out Ditka for the team’s head coaching position before the 1982 season, marking the beginning of a new era in Chicago history.
We’re Not Going To Be The Hittees, We’re Gonna Be The Hitters…
Upon seizing the Bears’ reins, Ditka immediately went about reversing the team’s losing ways. After putting together a losing record in 17 of the previous 19 seasons, the Bears took off under Ditka, amassing a 106-62 record over the next eleven seasons. The 1985 season was the pinnacle of both Ditka’s career and possibly the entire Bears franchise, as Ditka the dominant Bears defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
The 1985 team will be remembered for more than just the Lombardi Trophy they earned for the city of Chicago. Between Ditka, running back Walter Payton, defensive tackle William “The Refridgerator” Perry, and quarterback Jim McMahon, the 1985 Bears were a hilarious mix of ego and personality. In week 13 of the 1985 regular season, the Bears recorded the now-legendary “Super Bowl Shuffle”, an outrageously boastful music video predicting a Bears romp to a Super Bowl Victory. The Bears didn’t disappoint and even put on exclamation point on their championship run by annihilating the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.
It’s Important To Stretch As You Get Older…
After the 1985 season, Ditka would coach the Bears to several more winning seasons before he was let go by the Bears in 1992. Ditka returned to coaching for three years with the New Orleans Saints, but never achieved a winning record in his brief time there.
In the time since the end of his coaching tenure in New Orleans, Ditka has both been an NFL analyst on ESPN and a vocal advocate for retired NFL players. Having dealt with a spectrum of injuries himself, Ditka has been an outspoken leader of the movement to better support NFL veterans in the years after their retirement.
People Are Getting The Snot Knocked Out Of Them, That’s A Good Football Game…
As a player, a coach, and as a public advocate, Ditka has been both a popular sports figure and a pop culture icon. Despite his press conference antics and the SNL skit produced in his honor, Ditka’s legacy will be one of toughness and dedication to the game. Punchy and fierce when he needed to be, Ditka became a public icon that the blue-collar working class in the City of Broad Shoulders could all relate to.
While Ditka’s bust may be enshrined in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his mug remains fresher yet in the minds of the supporters of his former team…. DA BEARS.
By James Kopriva & Joseph O'Brien