Mike Ditka

American football player, coach, and commentator (born 1939)

American football player
Mike Ditka
refer to caption
Ditka in 2008
No. 89, 98
Position:Tight end
Personal information
Born: (1939-10-18) October 18, 1939 (age 84)
Carnegie, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:228 lb (103 kg)
Career information
High school:Aliquippa
(Aliquippa, Pennsylvania)
College:Pittsburgh (1958–1960)
NFL draft:1961 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5
AFL draft:1961 / Round: 1 / Pick: 8
Career history
As a player:
  • Chicago Bears (1961–1966)
  • Philadelphia Eagles (1967–1968)
  • Dallas Cowboys (1969–1972)
As a coach:
  • Dallas Cowboys (1973–1981)
    Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator
  • Chicago Bears (1982–1992)
    Head coach
  • New Orleans Saints (19971999)
    Head coach
Career highlights and awards
As a player
As a coach
Career NFL statistics
Receiving yards:5,812
Receiving touchdowns:43
Head coaching record
Regular season:121–95 (.560)
Postseason:6–6 (.500)
Career:127–101 (.557)
Player stats at PFR
Coaching stats at PFR
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame

Michael Keller Ditka (born Michael Dyczko; October 18, 1939) is an American former football player, coach, and television commentator. During his playing career, he was UPI NFL Rookie of Year in 1961, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, and a six-time All-Pro tight end with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League (NFL); he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. Ditka was the first tight end in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards receiving.

He was an NFL champion with the 1963 Bears and is a three-time Super Bowl champion, playing on the Cowboys' Super Bowl VI team, winning as an assistant coach for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII, and coaching the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX. He has been named to the NFL's 75th- and 100th-Anniversary All-Time Teams.

As a head coach for the Bears from 1982 to 1992, he was twice both the AP and UPI NFL Coach of Year (1985 and 1988). He also was the head coach of the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 1999.

Ditka and Tom Flores are the only people to win an NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach. Ditka, Flores, Gary Kubiak, and Doug Pederson are also the only people in modern NFL history to win a championship as head coach of a team for which they played previously.[1] Ditka is the only person to participate in both of the last two Chicago Bears' league championships, as a player in 1963 and as head coach in 1985.

In 2020, Ditka became the owner of the X League, a women's tackle football league that was originally the Lingerie Football League.[2]

He is known by the nickname "Iron Mike", which he has said comes from his being born and raised in a steel town in Pennsylvania.[3]

Early life

Ditka was born Michael Dyczko, on October 18, 1939, in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, the oldest child of Charlotte (Keller) and Mike Ditka Sr.[4] He grew up in nearby Aliquippa[5] with siblings Ashton, David, and Mary Ann. His father, a welder, was one of three brothers of a Polish[6] and Ukrainian[7] family in the coal-mining and steel-manufacturing area in Western Pennsylvania. His ancestry on his mother's side is Irish and German.[8] The Ukrainian surname "Dyczko" was difficult to pronounce in his hometown, so the family name was changed to "Ditka".[7] Ditka attended St. Titus School.

Ditka attended Aliquippa High School, where he was a three-sport star under head coach Press Maravich. While at Aliquippa High School, the team doctor, John L. Miller, took Mike and other players to Pitt football games and encouraged them to play for Pitt. Ditka is quoted as saying, "Doc Miller patched me up many times". Ditka hoped to escape his hometown's manufacturing jobs by attending college with a football scholarship. Initially planning to become a dentist,[5] he was recruited by three NCAA Division I teams, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Pitt.

College career

Ditka playing for Pitt in 1960

Ditka played college football for Pitt from 1958 until 1960, and was a three-sport athlete, also playing baseball (outfielder) and basketball (forward) for the Pitt Panthers.[9] He also was an intramural wrestling champion at Pitt, and a member of Sigma Chi fraternity]]

He started on the football team all three seasons, leading the team in receiving in each, while also serving as a linebacker, defensive end, and punter. As a sophomore, he led the team with 18 receptions for 252 yards and averaged 42.5 yards per punt. He had one touchdown reception (tied for second on the team).

As a junior, he led the team with 16 receptions for 249 yards and four receiving touchdowns. He also averaged 38.3 yards per punt.

As a senior, he was named a team captain, while leading the team with 11 receptions for 229 yards and two receiving touchdowns. He was a unanimous first-team selection on the College Football All-America Team as a two-way end. He finished his college career with 45 passes for 730 yards and seven touchdowns.[10]

In 1986, Ditka was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.[11] In 1997, his 89 jersey number was retired by the University of Pittsburgh at halftime of the game against the University of Miami. In 2018, he was inducted into the inaugural 16-member class of the University of Pittsburgh Athletics Hall of Fame.[12]

Playing career

Chicago Bears

The 1961 Chicago Bears offensive line in action, "Bears Workout at Soldier Field for Armed Forces game Friday", with Ditka visible on far left
Ditka's 1963 Topps card

Ditka was selected by the Chicago Bears fifth overall in the 1961 NFL draft, while the Houston Oilers drafted him eighth overall in the first round of the 1961 AFL Draft. He signed with the Bears and his presence was immediately felt. In his first season, Ditka had 58 receptions, introducing a new dimension to a tight end position that had previously been dedicated to blocking. He also scored 12 receiving touchdowns, which was the most by a Bears rookie.[13] His success earned him Rookie of the Year honors. He continued to play for the Bears for the next five years, earning a Pro Bowl trip each season.

He played on the 1963 NFL championship team. Many of the players from that team, including Ditka, were drafted by assistant coach George Allen, a future Hall of Famer, who was then in charge of the Bears' drafts. During the season, against the Los Angeles Rams, Ditka tied Harlon Hill's franchise record for the most receiving touchdowns in a game with four.[13] Ditka ranks first among tight ends and fourth in Bears history with 4,503 yards, fifth in both receptions (316) and touchdown catches (34).[14]

In 1962, he started all 14 games, making 58 receptions (tied for the team lead) for 904 yards (led the team) and five receiving touchdowns (led the team). In 1963, he led the team with 59 catches for 794 yards and eight touchdowns.

In 1964, he was second on the team with 75 receptions for 897 yards and five touchdowns. The next year, he posted 36 receptions (second on the team), 454 receiving yards (third on the team), and two receiving touchdowns (tied for fourth on the team).

In 1966, he registered 32 receptions (second on the team), 378 yards (third on the team) and two touchdowns (tied for second on the team). Ditka was also noted for decking football fan Felix Carbajal, who had run onto the playing field late in a Week 2 31–17 loss to the Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 16.[15] He had played out his option that season after not being able to reach a contract agreement with Bears' owner/head coach George Halas.

On February 8, 1967, The New York Times reported that just before the AFL–NFL merger, Ditka had signed a $300,000 contract with a $50,000 signing bonus with the Houston Oilers, the team that owned his AFL draft rights.[16][17][18]

Philadelphia Eagles

On April 26, 1967, Ditka was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles along with a 1968 fourth-round pick (#106-Alan Bush), in exchange for quarterback Jack Concannon. The transaction was intended to fill roster vacancies created by the retirements of Eagles' tight end Pete Retzlaff and Bears' quarterback Rudy Bukich.[19] His Oilers contract was transferred to the Eagles and Ditka was able to keep his $50,000 bonus to avoid any legal conflicts.[20] His time as a Bears player bitterly came to an end with a parting shot in which he stated that Halas "threw nickels around like manhole covers."[18] He wore number 98 in his first season with the Eagles, while only playing in nine games with four starts because of injuries.[21] Ditka was outplayed by tight end Jim Kelly, registering 26 receptions for 274 yards and two touchdowns.

In 1968, he changed his jersey number back to his usual 89. He appeared in 11 games with six starts, and his statistics were below tight end Fred Hill. He posted 13 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

Dallas Cowboys

On January 28, 1969, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for wide receiver Dave McDaniels.[22] Pettis Norman ended up being named the starting tight end, but Ditka still was able to play in 12 games with four starts, while making 17 receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

In 1970, he remained a reserve player behind Norman. He appeared in 14 games, while tallying eight receptions for 98 yards and no touchdowns. The Cowboys reached their first Super Bowl, losing 13–16 against the Baltimore Colts, by way of a field goal scored with five seconds left in regulation time.

In 1971, he was a backup player behind Billy Truax, appearing in 14 games with four starts. He set the franchise record for tight ends with 30 receptions in a season, while also compiling 360 receiving yards, one touchdown, and three kickoff returns for 30 yards. His highlight was a touchdown reception in the Cowboys' 24–3 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.

In 1972, he was named the starter at tight end, after Truax was limited by off-season knee surgery. He started all 14 games, posting 17 receptions for 198 yards and one touchdown, while alternating in some passing situations with rookie Jean Fugett.

On March 1, 1973, Ditka announced his retirement as a player, opening the door for him to be named the Cowboys wide receiver assistant coach under head coach Tom Landry.[23] At the time, his 427 receptions were the most by a tight end in NFL history.

Hall of Fame

In 1988,[24] his blocking and 427 career receptions for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns earned him the honor of being the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[14] Ditka also scored two touchdowns on offensive fumble recoveries, tying seven other players for the most in NFL history. In 1999, he was ranked number 90 on The Sporting News's list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

NFL career statistics

Won the NFL championship
Won the Super Bowl
Bold Career high

Regular season

Year Team Games Receiving Rushing Fumbles
GP GS Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Att Yds Avg Lng TD Fum
1961 CHI 14 14 56 1,076 19.2 76 12 0 2
1962 CHI 14 14 58 904 15.6 69 5 0 4
1963 CHI 14 14 59 794 13.5 63 8 0 0
1964 CHI 14 14 75 897 12.0 34 5 0 2
1965 CHI 14 14 36 454 12.6 44 2 0 1
1966 CHI 14 14 32 378 11.8 30 2 0 0
1967 PHI 9 6 26 274 10.5 25 2 0 0
1968 PHI 11 6 13 111 8.5 18 2 0 0
1969 DAL 12 4 17 268 15.8 51 3 0 0
1970 DAL 14 0 8 98 12.3 26 0 0 0
1971 DAL 14 4 30 360 12.0 29 1 2 2 1.0 11 0 0
1972 DAL 14 14 17 198 11.6 26 1 0 0
Career 158 118 427 5,812 13.6 76 43 2 2 1.0 11 0 9


Year Team Games Receiving Rushing Fumbles
GP GS Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Att Yds Avg Lng TD Fum
1963 CHI 1 1 3 38 12.7 15 0 0 0
1969 DAL 1 0 0 0 0
1970 DAL 3 0 1 5 5.0 5 0 0 0
1971 DAL 3 3 5 51 10.2 21 1 1 17 17.0 17 0 0
1972 DAL 2 2 2 13 6.5 9 0 0 0
Career 10 6 11 107 9.7 21 1 1 17 17.0 17 0 0

Coaching career

Retiring after the 1972 season, Ditka was immediately hired as an assistant coach by Landry. Ditka spent nine seasons as an assistant coach with the Cowboys. During his tenure, the Cowboys made the playoffs eight times, won six division titles, three NFC championships, and a Super Bowl victory in 1977.

While working with the Cowboys, Ditka sent a letter to George Halas, his former head coach, who was still owner of the Bears. In the letter, Ditka expressed regret for the acrimonious manner in which his time with the Bears had come to an end and said that he would like to come back to Chicago and be the head coach of the Bears "when he was ready".[25] Meanwhile, the Cowboys continued to win games, although they did not win another Super Bowl while Ditka was there. His last game with the Cowboys was the 1981 NFC Championship Game, where the team fell to the San Francisco 49ers.

Chicago Bears

After firing previous coach Neill Armstrong following the 1981 season, Halas decided to take Ditka up on his offer from several years earlier, and hired him to become the team's head coach for the 1982 season. Although the Bears had made the playoffs under Armstrong and his predecessor Jack Pardee, those were the only two winning seasons since Halas' retirement as coach, so he was looking for a coach who would bring the Bears back to prominence. Shortly after his hiring, as recounted by Mike Singletary in 2006, Ditka called a team meeting. In the meeting, he warned that the team would experience some turnover, but if they were all willing to work hard for him and stand with him, Ditka promised a trip to the Super Bowl within three seasons.[25] Specifically, Ditka said, "Give me three years, and if you walk with me, we'll get to the dance."[26]

By his third season in 1984, Ditka led the Bears to the NFC Championship Game, where the Bears were shut out by the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco. The following year in 1985, Ditka's coaching career hit its pinnacle on January 26, 1986, with a 46–10 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.[27] Ditka has stated that one of his biggest regrets in life was not letting Walter Payton score a touchdown in the Super Bowl, instead opting for Jim McMahon to run it in twice and rookie defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry to run it in once. Nevertheless, Ditka has contended that his reluctance to give Payton the ball was justified on account of the disproportionately heavy coverage the Bears' star running back faced from the Patriots' defense, and insisted that Payton's mere presence on the field was a decisive factor in the Bears' crushing victory notwithstanding personal statistics.

"1985 Chicago Bears Visit the White House', a 2011 video of the Ditka and the Bears' visit to the White House after winning Super Bowl XX

In 1985, Ditka led the Bears to a 15–1 record, and he was named NFL Coach of the Year by the Associated Press following the regular season.[28] Football commentators widely regard the 1985 Bears defense as one of the best.[citation needed] The 1985 Bears defense was masterminded by defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, with little oversight from Ditka; in fact, Ditka and Ryan had a largely adversarial relationship dating back to Ditka's hiring as Ryan, who was already on the coaching staff when Ditka joined the Bears, felt that he should have been promoted into the head-coaching position. Although the two men continued to work together, the relationship continued to deteriorate. With the Bears trailing by three touchdowns in a late-season Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins, the team's only loss, Ryan finally snapped after Ditka, as he recounted in 2006 for NFL Network, told him that the defensive scheme was not working. The two began throwing punches at each other and had to be separated. Ditka said, at that point, the relationship became unsalvageable. In an unusual gesture, following the Bears Super Bowl victory, the players carried both Ryan and Ditka off the field. In addition, the 1985 Chicago Bears are one of several teams to consistently challenge the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins for the unofficial title of the "Greatest NFL Team of All-Time".[29] The NFL Network series America's Game rated the 1985 Bears as the second-best Super Bowl champion, only behind the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

In 1986, Buddy Ryan left Chicago to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. When asked if he was happy Ryan was gone, Ditka replied he was not happy, but "elated". In 1986, 1987, and 1988, the Bears won the Central Division title and earned three home playoff games. The first of those years saw the Bears finish the regular season with a 14–2 record to tie the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants for the best in the entire league. However, the Bears were upset by the Washington Redskins in their first playoff game. The next year, the Bears finished second in the NFC with an 11–4 record, but were again upended by the Washington Redskins en route to that team's second Super Bowl victory of the decade. The Bears finished 12–4 in 1988 and got homefield advantage. They defeated Ryan's Philadelphia Eagles in the Fog Bowl in their first game, but the team was defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. This was the third time in five years that Ditka led the Bears to the NFC Championship Game, and was the last time they advanced this far until 2006.

Ditka suffered a heart attack during the 1988 season, which he attributed to stress since he was in excellent physical condition and had no significant family history of heart disease. However, despite being expected to miss much of the season, Ditka was on the sidelines as an "advisor" the next week and back in full charge the week after. He led the Bears to a 12–4 record and received his second coach of the year award from the AP.[30]

The Bears started 4–0 in 1989, but a series of last-second losses eventually led to a complete meltdown at the end of the season, as the Bears finished 6–10. The Bears rallied to win a weak Central Division in 1990 and make the playoffs as a wild card in 1991, but were eliminated convincingly in the early rounds by the New York Giants (who went on to win Super Bowl XXV) and the Dallas Cowboys, respectively. After dropping to 5–11 in the 1992 season, the Bears fired Ditka on January 5, 1993. His 106 wins are the second-most in Bears history, behind only Halas.[13]

On December 9, 2013, Ditka's Bears jersey, number 89, was retired in a halftime ceremony during a Monday Night Football game in Chicago as the Chicago Bears hosted the Dallas Cowboys, for whom Ditka also played and worked as an assistant coach under the late Tom Landry. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, and go Bears!" Ditka told the crowd.[31]

New Orleans Saints

In 1997, after a five-year absence in which he had served as a television analyst, Ditka returned to the NFL to take over as the permanent replacement for Jim Mora with the New Orleans Saints. Ditka inherited a team that had not made the playoffs, nor had recorded a record above .500, since 1992, and had finished the 1996 season, during which Mora had resigned, tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the second-worst record in the league (only the New York Jets, who only won once, had a worse record).

In Ditka's first season back in the league in 1997, he struggled early, as the Saints lost four of their first five games. They did manage to beat his former team, the Chicago Bears, along the way, and recorded five more wins, but after winning only one game in the division (even being swept by the last-place St. Louis Rams), the Saints finished at 6–10.

Ditka's team played more inconsistently in 1998, as the Saints started out 3–0, but could not keep the momentum going. Still, they were in playoff contention toward the end of the season, and defeated the eventual NFC East champions in Ditka's other former squad, the Dallas Cowboys, to get to 6–7 with three games to go. They dropped their last three, though, and were eliminated in week 16 on a last-second field goal against the Arizona Cardinals.

Then, in the offseason that followed, Ditka was roundly criticized for the trading of all of the team's 1999 draft picks (plus their first-round draft pick in 2000) to the Washington Redskins to move up in the draft and select Texas running back Ricky Williams (Washington later used the picks to select future All-Pro and Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, Jon Jansen, and LaVar Arrington). The trade was further mocked because of a magazine cover in which Ditka posed with Williams, who was wearing a wedding dress.[32]

The 1999 season proved to be the worst of Ditka's coaching career. After winning the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints dropped their next seven games, including a loss to the expansion Cleveland Browns. As the season wore on, Ditka's frustrations began showing in the local media. After a late-season practice with the team sitting at 2–7, a grumpy Ditka gave a sixty-second press conference where he was very short tempered and dismissive of what he thought were stupid questions. When one of them made it a point to ask him why he was in such a bad mood, Ditka responded by saying "what do you care?", and then followed up by saying to the reporter "if you were 2-7, you'd be in a bad mood too." Ditka would take one more question before muttering to the reporters, "not very much fun, is it?", then going inside.[33]

The low point of the season came three weeks later in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons, which was the Saints' 10th in 11 weeks. Ditka came into the postgame press conference appearing emotionally exhausted, and said he felt his charges “broke” him. He then said the Saints would be better off hiring someone else to coach the team, claiming he was the "wrong guy" to lead them and that "[he] didn't have it anymore", saying "God puts people in places for reasons, and he probably put me here to be humbled. I deserve it."

Ditka said that he did not feel the Saints had much talent on the offensive side of the field, blaming himself for that and saying that he had let the players down by not having them ready. He also cited the Saints’ lack of playmaking ability, as they dropped several passes and failed to take advantage of three Falcons fumbles while turning the ball over seven times themselves. Ditka was asked if he felt the team had quit on him, which he denied; however, when he was asked if he was thinking about leaving immediately he responded affirmatively. However, Ditka also said that he would not do it unless he knew for certain he would be fired before the end of the year. Before leaving the press conference, the defeated Ditka called himself a "hypocrite" and said the entire exercise was "silly".

After two more losses, Ditka and the Saints faced the 7–7 Dallas Cowboys in their home finale on Christmas Eve. Ditka chose to give the start to Jake Delhomme, his third-string quarterback. In his first NFL start, Delhomme threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, and Fred Weary took a forced fumble 56 yards for the game-winning score, as the Saints knocked off the Cowboys, 31–24. This proved to be Ditka's final victory as a head coach; after a 45–13 loss to the Carolina Panthers the following week left the Saints with a 3–13 record and their seventh consecutive nonwinning season, Ditka and general manager Bill Kuharich were fired on January 6, 2000.

Over a total of 14 seasons as a head coach, Ditka amassed a regular-season record of 121–95 and a postseason record of 6–6.

Head coaching record

Team Year Regular season Postseason
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
CHI 1982 3 6 0 .333 12th in NFC
CHI 1983 8 8 0 .500 3rd in NFC Central
CHI 1984 10 6 0 .625 1st in NFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost to San Francisco 49ers in NFC Championship Game
CHI 1985 15 1 0 .938 1st in NFC Central 3 0 1.000 Super Bowl XX champions
CHI 1986 14 2 0 .875 1st in NFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost to Washington Redskins in NFC Divisional Game
CHI 1987 11 4 0 .733 1st in NFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost to Washington Redskins in NFC Divisional Game
CHI 1988 12 4 0 .750 1st in NFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost to San Francisco 49ers in NFC Championship Game
CHI 1989 6 10 0 .375 4th in NFC Central
CHI 1990 11 5 0 .688 1st in NFC Central 1 1 .500 Lost to New York Giants in NFC Divisional Game
CHI 1991 11 5 0 .688 2nd in NFC Central 0 1 .000 Lost to Dallas Cowboys in NFC Wild Card Game
CHI 1992 5 11 0 .313 4th in NFC Central
CHI total 106 62 0 .631 6 6 .500
NO 1997 6 10 0 .375 4th in NFC West
NO 1998 6 10 0 .375 3rd in NFC West
NO 1999 3 13 0 .188 5th in NFC West
NO total 15 33 0 .313
Total 121 95 0 .560 6 6 .500

Broadcasting career

Almost immediately after his dismissal from the Bears in 1992, Ditka took a broadcasting job with NBC, working as an analyst on NFL Live and as a color commentator for many other NBC broadcasts. After he was fired by the Saints, Ditka joined CBS Sports, spending the 2000 and 2001 seasons as a studio analyst on The NFL Today. He is currently a commentator on ESPN's NFL Live, ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, and CBS Radio–Westwood One's Monday Night Football pregame show. On his radio show, Coach Ditka is called "America's Coach" by well-known sidekick Jim Gray. Beginning in 2006, Ditka appeared on a Seattle radio program, "Groz with Gas" on 950 KJR-AM Seattle, on Thursday afternoons with Dave Grosby and Mike Gastineau. Ditka regularly appears on Chicago radio station ESPN 1000 (WMVP-AM), often broadcasting on Thursday mornings from one of his eponymous restaurants along with ESPN 1000 mid-morning hosts Marc Silverman and Tom Waddle, a former Bears player under Ditka.

Ditka served as color commentator for ESPN's September 10, 2007, broadcast of Monday Night Football, alongside Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic.[34] He replicated this role on the second game of the doubleheader in 2008, as well. Ditka spent several years with ESPN working on Sunday NFL Countdown. In March 2016, ESPN and Ditka announced he would move to SportsCenter for remote-broadcasting analysis, as Ditka disliked the long distance from his home to the studio. This new role allows him to stay at home, while still maintaining an analyst role with the network.[35]

Other ventures

Ditka presenting a keynote speech in Chicago in 2010

Ditka has written or contributed to a number of books since 1986. He wrote Ditka: An Autobiography with friend and sports journalist Don Pierson;[36] he authored The 85 Bears: We Were the Greatest with Rick Telander.[37] He also wrote with Telander In Life First you Kick Ass: Reflections on the 1985 Bears and Wisdom from Da Coach.[38]

Ditka has also been the subject of several books including Ditka: Monster of the Midway by Armen Keteyian[39] and Ditka: The Player, the Coach, the Chicago Bears Legend which is a compilation of Chicago Tribune stories written about Ditka throughout the years.[40] He is also a large topic in books written about the Bears as a team such as Then Ditka said to Payton[41] and Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football.[42]

In 1987, following the success of the Chicago Bears' charity single "The Super Bowl Shuffle", the video's producer Richard E. Meyer created a similar music video starring Ditka, titled "The Grabowski Shuffle." The video, about "working hard to get what you want", was inspired by a comment Ditka had made about his team's reputation: "There are Smiths and there are Grabowskis; we're the Grabowskis."[43]

In 1991, Ditka cooperated with Accolade to produce the computer game Mike Ditka Ultimate Football and the Sega Mega Drive game Mike Ditka Power Football. In 1995, Ditka starred as a football coach in a full-motion video game called Quarterback Attack with Mike Ditka, released for the Sega Saturn, PC, and 3DO. Quarterback Attack was re-released for iTunes and Google Play in December 2016.

In 1993, Ditka appeared as himself in the 271st and final episode of the American television sitcom Cheers.[44] Ditka also appeared as himself in the show According to Jim, in the 2002 episode "Cars & Chicks".[45] Ditka has made guest appearances and cameos on several other shows, including L.A. Law, Saturday Night Live and 3rd Rock from the Sun. In 2005, Ditka had a major role in the comedy Kicking & Screaming, playing himself; he was recruited by Will Ferrell's character to be an assistant little league soccer coach.

Ditka appeared in several ads for Montgomery Ward in the early 1990s, promoting their electronics and appliances department, known as Electric Avenue. Ditka also starred in ad for 'Big Shot' soda in 1997. In the videogame Deltarune, this ad is referenced by the character Spamton, who talks about becoming a 'BIG SHOT' with his friend 'Mike' in the year 1997.[46]

Ditka performed "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field in 1998, the first season after the death of Harry Caray, who had previously led the song. Chicago Now blogger Marcus Leshock derided the performance, dubbing Ditka "the worst 7th-inning singer in history."[47]

Ditka was inducted to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

In January 2007, Ditka used the Super Bowl return of the Chicago Bears as a platform to promote efforts by many early NFL players trying to raise support for former NFL players in need of money and medical assistance; he is a key member in the Gridiron Greats. Angry at the wealthy NFL for ignoring the players who helped to create the league, Ditka and other former players have since been attempting to raise funds, in the words of Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure, "for guys who made this league and built it on their backs, their knees, their legs and now they're all broken down and they can't even get a decent pension."[48] Ultimately, however, in December 2007, Ditka folded his "Hall of Fame Assistance Trust Fund" charity amidst revelations that, "in 2005, the group gave out more money to pay celebrities to play golf than the group in its entire three years of operation gave out to injured players", according to Laurie Styron of the American Institute of Philanthropy.[49] During Super Bowl XLIV, Ditka (who was not in the original group) joined other members of the 1985 Chicago Bears in resurrecting the "Super Bowl Shuffle" in a Boost Mobile commercial.[50]

In the spring of 2007, Ditka worked alongside X Management and Geneva Hospitality to form Mike Ditka Resorts, currently consisting of two resorts in the Orlando, Florida, area. Ditka owns a chain of restaurants, "Ditka's", which has three locations in Illinois and one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Ditka discovered singer John Vincent, who has been performing at his Chicago restaurant since 2001. Vincent performs in 20 different voices and sings the National Anthem regularly for the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Ditka and Vincent also own a record label together.[51][52]

Ditka was a co-owner the Chicago Rush, an Arena Football League team. In August 2011, media reports noted that Ditka would be a financial investor for the new Elite Football League of India, a proposed American football league that will be India's first.[53][54]

In 2012, Ditka partnered with Terlato Wines to produce his own collection of wines, produced in California.[55] The partnership stemmed from a 20-year friendship between Ditka and Bill Terlato and their shared love of sports and food and wine. The first Mike Ditka Wines were released in fall 2012, including eight labels highlighting his career: "The Player" (2011 Pinot Grigio and 2010 Merlot), "The Coach" (2011 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon), " The Hall of Famer" (2011 Chardonnay and 2011 Pinot Noir), and "The Restaurateur" pair which includes "The Icon" (2010 Cabernet Sauvignon) and "The Champion" (2010 Red Blend)."[56] The same year, Ditka and Camacho Cigars partnered and produced a line of cigars called "The Mike Ditka Kickoff Series".[57] These cigars are named to highlight the milestones of Coach Ditka's football career: "The Player", The Coach", and "The Hall of Famer". All of these cigars are produced in Honduras.[58]

In 2013, Ditka and Vienna Beef partnered to create Ditka Sausages, which will be eight inches long and one-third pound in weight. The two types are "Hot Beef Polish Sausage" and "Chicken Sausage with Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomatoes".[59]

Also in 2013, Ditka and former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon are featured in a new series of commercials for the online discount retailer Overstock.com.[60]

In 2014, Ditka and Resultly partnered to feature his profile and product collections. Ditka's profile is featured on Resultly and he regularly interacts with users about the collections he creates of his favorite items from all over the web.

In 2015, Ditka did several television ads for McDonald's. He was seen wearing a Green Bay Packers sweater vest. Some would later question if Ditka "jinxed" the Packers, as their six-game undefeated streak halted to a three-game losing streak during the airing of the commercials (including a loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving, which was part of a three-game winning streak they were enjoying at the time). A follow-up commercial would show Ditka throwing the Packers sweater vest out the window and donning his more familiar Bears sweater vest once the contest was over. Just hours after the spot was aired, the Packers went on to beat the Vikings, ending the "curse".[61]

Personal life

Ditka was married to his first wife, Marge, from 1961 to 1973.[62] They had four children together, Mark, Matt, Mike and Megan. He married his current wife Diane (née Trantham) Ditka in 1977.

During the 1985 season, he was arrested on Interstate 294 near O'Hare International Airport and later convicted of DUI after returning from a game against the San Francisco 49ers.

In the midst of a successful 1988 season, he suffered a heart attack, but bounced back quickly. In November 2012, he suffered a minor stroke at a suburban country club in Chicago. Later in the day, Ditka reported he was feeling "good right now and it's not a big deal."[63]

From 1989 until 1997, Ditka lived in Bannockburn, Illinois.[64]

From 1997 until 2001, Ditka lived in an area of New Orleans known as English Turn.[65]

He is a practicing Roman Catholic[66] and a member of the Knights of Columbus.[67][68][69]

On November 23, 2018, Ditka was hospitalized in Naples, Florida, after suffering a heart attack while playing golf.[70]

Political views

Ditka is known for his vocal conservative views. In July 2004, Ditka, a self-described "ultra-ultra-ultra conservative",[71] was reportedly considering running against the Democratic candidate, state senator Barack Obama, for an open seat in the U.S. Senate for Illinois in the 2004 Senate election. The seat was being vacated by Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican, and Republican nominee Jack Ryan withdrew from the race amid controversy at the end of June, leaving the Republicans in a bind. Local and national political leaders, from Illinois Republican Party Chair Judy Baar Topinka to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Sen. George Allen, whose father by the same name was an assistant coach with the Bears in the 1960s when Ditka played, met with Ditka in an effort to persuade him to fill the spot on the ticket. On July 14, however, Ditka announced he would not seek the nomination, citing personal and business considerations. His wife was against the run and he operates a chain of restaurants.[72] Obama went on to defeat the eventual Republican candidate, former U.S. ambassador Alan Keyes, in a landslide in the November 2004 election. Ditka has since regretted not running. Ditka believes that Obama never would have been elected president if Ditka had run against Obama for Senate in 2004, and claims that Obama is the worst president in United States history.[73]

In stark contrast to the above-stated positions, Ditka appeared in an ad during the 2010 Illinois gubernatorial election for incumbent Democratic governor Pat Quinn. In the ad, Ditka stated that, "[D]oing the right thing for the people who put you in office is more important than what you can do for yourself in office ... and I think he'll do that. I think he understands that ... and I think he's good people." Quinn, at the time, was locked into a tight race against State Senator Bill Brady, a conservative Republican from Bloomington. Quinn would go on to narrowly defeat Brady. Four years later, in 2014, Ditka appeared in a televised campaign ad for Quinn's Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, who defeated Quinn in the general election.[74]

In October 2011, Ditka and the 1985 team went to the White House after they did not attend in 1986 due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He presented President Obama with a Chicago Bears jersey with the number 85 on it with "Obama" on the back of it.[75]

Ditka was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump's election campaign, saying "I support Trump all the way. I really do."[76]

Some of Ditka's comments, most notably regarding former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests, have garnered controversy due to Ditka's position with ESPN. Under the network's new social media policy (implemented in late 2017 in the wake of Curt Schilling's firing and Jemele Hill's suspension),[77] Ditka is to refrain from making controversial statements, but made a series of remarks in late 2017 that drew widespread criticism. In a September interview with a Dallas-based radio station, Ditka was critical of Kaepernick's protests, saying "I think it's a problem. Anybody who disrespects this country and the flag. If they don't like the country they don't like our flag, get the hell out."[78] In the same interview, Ditka was dismissive of social issues in America, saying "I don't see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on, I see opportunities if people want to look for opportunity – now if they don't want to look for them – then you can find problems with anything, but this is the land of opportunity because you can be anything you want to be if you work. If you don't work, that's a different problem."[78]

One of Ditka's more controversial remarks came in October 2018 during a Bears/Vikings pregame show, when he said he did not believe that there was any oppression in America for the last 100 years: "There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I'm not watching it as carefully as other people."[79] Ditka immediately came under criticism for his comments from many sources, including former New York Jets star and fellow Beaver County, Pennsylvania native Joe Namath, who said that Ditka needed to "look up the meaning of oppression. Look up the definition of oppression, and you understand that it's obviously taken place,"[80] as well as from columnists at the Chicago Sun-Times who said Ditka was "not a Chicagoan"[81] and "a white man who is blind to the plight of people of color in this country."[82] The NFL distanced itself from Ditka's comments, saying, "Everyone's entitled to an opinion. The league would not express that opinion, by any stretch of the imagination."[83] Ditka quickly clarified his remarks in a release, apologizing to anyone who may have been offended by his comments: "The characterization of the statement that I made does not reflect the context of the question that I was answering and certainly does not reflect my views throughout my lifetime. I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination."[83]

See also


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