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Da Coach held court the other day and everyone was riveted to what he had to say. But to be honest – it made me wonder…why? Saturday Night Live references aside, BEARS fans have an illogical, visceral appreciation for anyone who plays the game the right way, which is why Coach Ditka, and his connection to Chicago’s last two NFL Championships is so revered. But, if we were to stretch that thought process out just a little further – there might be an opportunity to develop and ensure “BEARS Football” for generations to come.
On the same day Da Coach visited practice, the 1972 Dolphins finally got their due when they visited the White House and were received by a devout BEARS fan. President Obama noted that the Dolphins were the only team to defeat the ’85 Bears – a team the president called the best ever…with a grain of political salt.
So why do BEARS fans hold Da Coach in such esteem? It has little to do with his win/loss record. On the contrary, with due respect to Coach Ditka, the 1985 BEARS should have been the start of something long term. The talent on that team was staggering. Maybe the president should have said – the ’85 BEARS should have been the greatest team, because it marked the return to prominence of the league’s charter franchise. And yet BEARS fans – myself included – shower Coach Ditka with adulation and affection even though he wasn’t even close to being the best coach in BEARS’ history…and arguably may not have been the best coach on his own Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears.
The BEARS teams Ditka coached were a raucous bunch of individuals who often battled amongst themselves as well as delivering beatings throughout the league. I’m not talking about robust point differentials. I’m talking about physically beating the pulp out of opponents; controlling the line of scrimmage and then using that control to impose their will (decidedly ill will) upon their opponent.
In fact, Coach Ditka and Coach Ryan were barely on speaking terms. Ditka, because Ryan was forced upon him by the front office, and Ryan…well Ryan wasn’t much for talking to anyone, and he didn’t mind fostering an Us against Them atmosphere even if the “Them” were offensive players on the BEARS. This was never more evident than when both coaches were lifted up on the shoulders of players after thumping the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
BEARS fans’ admiration for Da Coach actually started in his playing days. Mike Ditka, the Tight End, represented a link to a time when the BEARS won championships by smacking the ever loving life out of the opponent and then found time to focus on scoring enough to win the game…in that order.
That’s why BEARS fans love Mike Ditka, as well as his ’85 BEARS. It’s not about Xs and Os it’s about playing “BEARS Football.” It’s honoring Doug Buffone, Dick Butkus and Bronco Nagurski, by connecting with them today. It’s about playing the game the right way.
It’s also why we admired players like Mike Singletary, Mike Brown, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. It’s why we all jumped to our feet when Jon Bostic delivered a snot-knocker in the preseason game against the Chargers. They all played “BEARS Football.”
More than just beating people up “BEARS Football” is about the fundamentals of dominating the line of scrimmage. By focusing on ownership of the line of scrimmage everything else is made easier. Through the years BEARS players like Brown, Gary Fencik, Singletary, and Urlacher not only played the game the right way, but they had obvious leadership qualities that transcended the player/coach relationship. They were often considered coaches on the field.
Ironically, several other teams throughout the league have recognized BEARS players who not only respected the fundamentals of the game as a player, but when given an opportunity, have brought and taught “Bears Football” to coaching careers.
Former BEARS players who are currently coaching in the NFL include; Jim Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier, Mike Singeltary, Jeff Fisher, Ron Rivera and Tim Harris. I’m not counting Sean Payton, even though he played for Ditka, because he was a replacement player.
Currently coaching, the coaching community and NFL coaching trees are all born out of paying your dues, and repaying someone who gave you an opportunity in the past. But, since there isn’t a franchised-owned development league, the NFL is the only major sport that doesn’t routinely develop coaches throughout the organization.
However, if we were interested in perpetuating Bears Football wouldn’t it make sense to develop coaches from within? Wouldn’t it serve the franchise, fans and the current BEARS roster more if their coaches were living breathing examples of how the game should be played?
Nobody’s saying that every candidate would retire from being a player and then immediately transition onto the coaching staff. However, there are players that could do that if they wanted to – or when they got over the trauma of no longer being a player. Wasn’t it obvious that Mike Singletary would make an outstanding coach if afforded an opportunity to develop? Harbaugh came from a family of coaches! Was it that much of a leap in logic to think he might develop into an NFL-caliber coach? There should at least be an opportunity.
Coach Trestman bringing in Da Coach provided today’s players with a living connection to BEARS’ history. If they didn’t respect the fact that they are playing for the charter franchise of the league and the lineage of success that goes all the way back to the league’s origin – they do now. It was an outstanding move by Trestman. Players should continually hear and be afforded an understanding of why being a BEARS player is special.
In a May 2011 Dan Pompei column – Harbaugh explained how Coach Ditka influenced his approach to coaching. “The thing I took with me is the passion he had for the game, the way he was able to break the game down to what was important,” Harbaugh said. “The main thing with him was the raw competition — football always came down to competing man against man, in its rawest form. He had a great way of bringing that out. Be a man. Man up. Do your job.” Sounds like BEARS Football!