By Tim Bannon and Chris Boghossian
Chicago Tribune (TNS)
CHICAGO — Mike Ditka, who turned 80 on Friday, has had a remarkable football life.
Consensus All-American tight end at Pittsburgh in 1960. Five-time Pro Bowl selection with the Bears. College and Pro Football Hall of Famer. Super Bowl-winning coach with the Bears.
Restaurant owner, broadcaster, TV and movie star, author, co-owner of an Arena Football League team. He even has his own line of wine and cigars and once had his own brand of sausages.
Here’s a closer look at the man also known as Da Coach, who spent 17 years with the Bears organization — six as a player and 11 as head coach — and is No. 11 on the Chicago Tribune’s list of the 100 greatest players in Bears history.
Mike Ditka as a player
Catch made in his first NFL game, a 37-13 road loss to the Vikings on Sept. 17, 1961. He gained 18 yards on the play.
Games it took Ditka to score his first NFL touchdown. He took an Ed Brown pass 47 yards for a score in the first quarter against the Rams on Sept. 23, 1961, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Ditka caught five passes for 130 yards in the Bears’ 21-17 victory.
NFL championships he won: in 1963 with the Bears and 1972 with the Cowboys.
Nicknames on his Pro Football Reference page: “MD,” “The Doctor” and “Iron Mike.” Of course, he became known as “Da Coach” in his post-playing career.
Pick the Bears used to select Ditka in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft out of Pittsburgh. The Houston Oilers also selected Ditka with the eighth pick in the first round of the ‘61 AFL draft.
Pro Bowl selections in six seasons with the Bears. He also was a two-time first-team All-Pro.
Career postseason games, nine with the Cowboys and one with the Bears. He had one postseason touchdown reception, a 7-yarder from Roger Staubach to cap a 24-3 Cowboys victory against the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
Touchdowns in his rookie season, a career high. He had 1,076 yards on 56 catches in 13 games, the one time he surpassed 1,000 yards in his career.
Seasons played with three teams. The Bears traded Ditka in 1967 to the Eagles, for whom he played for two seasons before joining the Cowboys for the final four years of his career.
Career receiving touchdowns, 34 of which came with the Bears.
Bears record while Ditka was with the team, a .583 winning percentage.
Receptions in 14 games in 1964, Ditka’s single-season career high.
Games played with the Bears, part of his 158 total.
Receiving yards, on nine catches, Ditka had against the Packers on Nov. 12, 1961, at Wrigley Field. He scored three touchdowns in a 31-28 Bears loss. The receptions, yards and touchdowns were single-game career bests.
Career receptions, 316 of which came with the Bears.
Career receiving yards. He had 4,503 with the Bears.
Mike Ditka as a coach
Super Bowl title. His 1985 Bears went 15-1, then stormed through the playoffs before a 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. (He also won a ring as an assistant with the 1977 Cowboys, who won Super Bowl XII.)
Victories in his first year as Bears coach. The 1982 team went 3-6 in the strike-shortened season.
Times the Bears made the playoffs in his 11 seasons. His career playoff record was 6-6, but he was 2-5 in his last seven playoff games. Ditka’s Bears teams finished under .500 only three times: 1982, 1989 (6-10) and 1992 (5-11).
Draft picks the Saints traded to the Redskins in 1999. Ditka coveted Texas running back Ricky Williams, so he dealt the Saints’ six picks in the 1999 draft and first- and third-round selections in 2000 for the No. 5 pick. The Saints took Williams, then finished 3-13 and fired Ditka.
Seasons as a Cowboys assistant. He was Tom Landry’s special teams and receivers coach from 1973-81.
Bears record against the Packers under Ditka, a .750 winning percentage. The Bears won eight straight in the series from 1985-88.
Ditka’s record as Saints coach from 1997-99, a .313 winning percentage.
Ditka’s record in 11 seasons with the Bears from 1982-92, a .631 winning percentage.
Ditka’s overall record in 14 NFL seasons, a .560 winning percentage.
Mike Ditka’s post-football career
Acting credits for Ditka, according to the Internet Movie Database, although he mainly played himself, as he did in the TV shows “Cheers,” “Entourage” and “Becker” and in the soccer movie “Kicking & Screaming” with Will Ferrell. One of the few times he played someone other than himself was in “Madzilla,” in which he played the mayor of Chicago in a short Make-A-Wish Foundation film for a 5-year-old boy with leukemia who loved “Godzilla” movies.
Seconds it took Ditka to barrel through “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley Field on June 5, 1998, one of the fastest versions ever performed during the seventh-inning stretch.
Ditka opened his namesake Gold Coast steakhouse in 1997, but the Chicago Sun-Times reports it will likely close this year, 22 years after it opened. There are two other Ditka’s locations: at Oakbrook Terrace and in Pittsburgh. The Arlington Heights restaurant and his restaurant/nightclub on Ontario Street also have closed.
Years he has been married to Diana Ditka. She is his second wife. He had four children with his first wife, Marge, his high school sweetheart, whom he married in 1961; they divorced in 1973.
Ditka has been the spokesman for products ranging from antifreeze to Vienna beef sausages in his almost 30 years as a paid pitch man.
Ditka’s jersey number, which the Bears retired in 2013 and the University of Pittsburgh had done years earlier. On that chilly night at Soldier Field on Dec. 9, 2013, Ditka was emotional during a halftime ceremony, recalling his Bears career. “I saw Virginia (McCaskey) and she looks wonderful,” Ditka said. “I go back with her and (her late husband) Ed (McCaskey) to the beginning and I was a 22-year-old kid when I came to Chicago and met Mr. Halas. I was dazzled by that $12,000-a-year contract. I went out and bought a new car. I had it going.”
Ditka has been an adamant critic of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination. In a national radio interview in 2017, he said this country has been free of oppression for at least a century. “All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression,” Ditka told Jim Gray on Westwood One. “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.”
Year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming the first tight end enshrined.