Mike Ditka revolutionized the tight end position during a Hall of Fame career with the Bears and later led the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship as head coach.
|Mike Ditka was the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.|
On Dec. 9, the Bears will honor their legendary former player and coach by retiring his No. 89 jersey at halftime of a Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.
"Mike Ditka embodies the spirit of everything the Bears are about," said chairman George H. McCaskey. "He's an icon. The last time we won a championship Mike Ditka was our coach and the last time we won before that Mike Ditka was a player. The organization knew [that retiring his number] was the right thing to do."
Ditka is the only individual in the NFL's modern era to win a league championship with the same team as both a player (1963) and head coach (1985). While the Bears boast 27 Hall of Famers, Ditka will become only the 14th player to have his number retired by the organization.
"It's a tremendous honor," Ditka told ChicagoBears.com. "It's something that I didn't anticipate or expect, but it's a great honor. When you think of all the great Bears players who have had their jerseys retired, I can't say that there's any greater honor. I'm very humbled by it and very thankful that George made the decision to go ahead and do that because it's really great."
After being selected by the Bears with the fifth overall pick in the 1961 draft out of Pittsburgh, Ditka was voted to five Pro Bowls in six seasons. A two-time All-Pro, he was named NFL Rookie of the Year after catching 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.
On the Bears' all-time receiving list, Ditka ranks first among tight ends and fourth overall with 4,503 yards, fifth with 316 receptions and fifth with 34 touchdown catches.
Ditka played his final six NFL seasons with the Eagles (1967-68) and Cowboys (1969-72), helping Dallas win Super Bowl VI and finishing his career with 427 receptions, which remained the most by a tight end until Kellen Winslow eclipsed the mark in 1980. In 1988, "Iron Mike" became the first tight end enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After his playing career ended, Ditka served as a Cowboys assistant coach from 1973-81 and was part of their coaching staff when they won Super Bowl XII.
Ditka was hired as Bears head coach in 1982 by George Halas a few years after sending Halas a letter expressing his interest in the job. In 11 seasons, Ditka compiled a 112-68 record while leading the Bears to six NFC Central titles, three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl XX victory. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1988.
Ditka guided one of the most dominant teams in NFL history, the famed 1985 Bears, to a 15-1 record. The team blanked the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0) in the playoffs before crushing the New England Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.
"He revolutionized the tight end position as a player and grabbed an entire franchise by the throat as a head coach and willed it to victory in the Super Bowl," McCaskey said. "We have more retired numbers than any other team in the NFL. After this, we do not intend to retire any more numbers but we thought if there is going to be a last one, there is no more appropriate one than 89."
Having his number retired, Ditka joins a select group of Bears players that also includes Bronko Nagurski (3), George McAfee (5), Halas (7), Willie Galimore (28), Walter Payton (34), Gale Sayers (40), Brian Piccolo (41), Sid Luckman (42), Dick Butkus (51), Bill Hewitt (56), Bill George (61), Clyde "Bulldog" Turner (66) and Red Grange (77).
"It's the consummation of a career," Ditka said. "It's one of the greatest things you could be honored with. When you mention [Gale] Sayers and [Dick] Butkus and some of the guys who have had their jerseys retired, it's an unbelievable group of men and great players in the NFL and for the Chicago Bears. It's a tremendous honor.
"It's just fantastic and I'm very honored and very pleased. I can honestly say that if it wouldn't have happened it wouldn't have mattered because the joy I had from playing with the Bears was unbelievable. I had a lot of fun doing what I did. I had a great career and a great time."