Daaaa Coach: The Legendary Mike Ditka

chicago bears coach mike ditka
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His aviators rival Top Gun and his sweaters are up there with Bill Cosby’s. His faithful following was made famous in “Da Bears” Saturday Night Live sketches (Check out some of the best here). Mike Ditka, aka “Da Coach” or “Iron Mike” is one of Chicago’s all-time most famous (and favorite) sports figures –- in the running with Michael Jordan and Harry Caray.

A talentedfootball player from 1961 through 1972, Ditka spent the first six years of his career in Chicago as a tight end, a relatively new and undeveloped position at the time. In 1988 he would become the first person who played exclusively at tight end to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Drafted fifth overall in the 1961 NFL Draft by the Bears (as well as eight overall in the 1961 AFL Draft), his impact was felt immediately, as Ditka excelled in many aspects of the game and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most ferocious and feared players in the league. His unique and extensive skills earned him Rookie of the Year honors as well as Pro Bowl berths each of the next five seasons he spent with the team, and in 1963 he was part of the Chicago Bears NFL Championship winning team. Through multiple severe injuries, Ditka remained on the field, playing in 84 consecutive games for the Bears during his tenure in Chicago.

But eventually the constant abuse he was both giving and receiving took its toll on his body and injuries began to slow him down. This slow deterioration coupled with serious disagreements between Ditka and Bears owner George Hallas culminated in Chicago trading Ditka to the Philadelphia Eagles where he again struggled with injuries before finishing his career in Dallas. In 1972 he returned to become an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, but he would eventually make his way back to Chicago as a head coach, most notably for the 1985 Super Bowl winning (and shuffling) Chicago Bears.

While Ditka is arguably one of the greatest of all time (he was ranked 90th in the Sporting News’ list of the top 100 players of all time) and he almost single handedly changed the tight end position from purely a third blocker to a main receiving target, his legacy might be more defined by his attitude, quotes, and angry tirades, both as a coach and a player.

Whether he was conducting interviews without his pants on or screaming obscenities at fans, Ditka was never one to shy away from the camera or to filter his true feelings. He had a hot temper which he often let fly at media members, fans, and pretty much anyone who passed in his way. Still, he somehow endeared himself to those same groups of people, and despite his immense lack of political correctness, became a favorite sports personality nation wide.

Post-NFL, Ditka has become quite the businessman and spokesman — on his official site you can buy everything from wine and cigars to prostate protection pills. A few years ago Ditka even flirted with the idea of running for Illinois State Senate (although everyone but him knew it was a horrible idea). He still spends much of his time in Chicago, so if you’re in the city and want to try your luck at seeing Da Coach in person, you can make your way to Ditka’s (ditkasrestaurants.com) on Chestnut Street right off Michigan. Ditka can often be found (slightly red-faced) at the bar or a private table upstairs.

About Christy Berkery

Christy is a regular UPchicago.com contributor.

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