The Bear Goggles On Countdown to Kickoff series is now underway for the second season in a row. Because the number 89 is retired, we are doing a tribute to that retired player, Mike Ditka.
Few figures throughout NFL history have built a legacy like Mike Ditka. He contributed to the NFL as a player, a coach, and an analyst while managing to make an impact at each destination in his career. While going listing off his achievements and memorable moments could make for a worthy tribute, it’s all been done before. What better way to shake up a tribute than with some old-fashioned controversy? Here are the top 5 most memorable Ditka moments of all time.
Media tirades- They may call Ditka “Iron Mike” for all the metal in his joints, but he possessed a steel tongue as well. His arguments with the media could warrant a list on their own, but none of the tirades on their own deserve a spot on this list.
The student bests the master- Before Ditka came to coach the Bears, he worked as an assistant under Tom Landry’s Cowboys. Ditka’s experience under a coaching legend along with his strong ties to Chicago landed him the head job in 1982. Ditka wouldn’t see his mentor until the 1985 season. The Bears handed Dallas their worst defeat in franchise history by a score of 44-0.
5) Mike Ditka dismantles the Packers as a rookie
The NFL was by no means a passing league in 1961, but no one passed that message along to Ditka. The rookie sensation amassed 190 yards off of 9 receptions with 3 touchdowns. The Bears fell by a score of 28-31, but the game was a sign of things to come from Ditka as a player. He led the team in receiving with 1,076 yards to go along with 12 scores.
Ditka’s single game performance and career as a whole helped redefine the tight end position as a dual threat. Coaches learned that they could not only utilize the tight end as a pass catcher but also center their offense around it. Without Ditka, there is no Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, or Rob Gronkowski.
4) Trading the draft for Ricky Williams
Most memorable doesn’t always mean good. When Ditka’s tenure in Chicago had expired, he went south to New Orleans to coach the Saints. However, after two 6-10 seasons, Ditka needed to change something if he wanted to keep his job. As an offensive mind, Ditka sensed gold in Texas superstar, Ricky Williams. To say Ditka wanted Williams would be an atrocious understatement. The outspoken coach spoke a bit too loud when he said he would trade his entire draft to acquire Ricky Williams. The statement took away the Saints bargaining power, to say the least. The Saints traded 8 total picks (two firsts and two thirds) in order to move 12th to 5th overall and acquire their running back.
Ditka then famously posed for a Sports Illustrated cover with Williams. However, Ditka brought more than just a cigar to the shoot, but also some dreadlocks to match his first round pick.
While Ricky Williams played well for the Saints, the team as a whole continued to struggle. A third abysmal season in a row led to Ditka’s firing. Williams ran for over 10,000 yards throughout a complicated career.
3) Mike Ditka vs Buddy Ryan
Chicago’s best years in football also featured one of its fiercest feuds. Looking back, it’s easy to understand why Ditka was given the job by Halas, but at the time, it couldn’t have been more controversial.
Buddy Ryan had coached the Bears defense since 1978, and earned a strong following from his players. The players loved him so much, they lobbied for him to be head coach, and at the very least, retained as defensive coordinator. As we all know, Ditka won the job, and the feud was born. Ditka ran the offense while Ryan ran the defense.
The two agreed openly at practices and meetings and even scuffled at halftime during their lone loss of 1985 against the Miami Dolphins. Their feud even carried over to their crowing achievement, Super Bowl XX. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, both coaches were carried off the field by the offense and defense respectively. It was the last time that Ditka and Ryan would ever coach together, and also the last time that either would reach a Super Bowl.
2) Ditka returns to Soldier Field for jersey retirement
A special aura surrounded Soldier Field on a cold December night in 2013. Not only was Monday Night football in town to cover a game with multiple playoff implications, but it was also the night of Mike Ditka’s jersey retirement.
When halftime came, the grizzled veteran struggled through the below zero wind chill to assume his position at the podium. He thanked Chicago multiple times for being a large part of his dream and ended his speech with a resounding “Go Bears!” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The Bears earned a decisive victory over the Cowboys by a score of 45-28.
1) Mike Ditka delivers on his Super Bowl promise
Could it be any other way? Chicago has seen talent come and go in the years following 1985, but nothing will ever compare to the group that “Da Coach” led into battle for 19 magical games.
When Ditka earned the Bears coaching job in 1982, he promised the players that he would make them champions in three years. Many of the players who heard his promise in 1982 didn’t last three years, but those that did hoisted the Lombardi trophy.
What did we miss? What are your top 5 Ditka moments? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to stay tuned as our countdown to Bears football continues.