Exclusive Interview: Bears Legend Mike Ditka Talks Possible NFL Rule Changes, Hot Topics and Much More

Exclusive Interview: Bears Legend Mike Ditka Talks Possible NFL Rule Changes, Hot Topics and Much More
Former Bears coach Mike Ditka at the end of the well-documented 1985 season. (Tribune photo 1986)

Bears legend Mike Ditka doesn’t need much of an introduction, but we’ll give you one to remind you just once more of his greatness.

The 74-year-old former Bears tight end and head coach is the only individual in the modern NFL era to win a championship with the same team as a player and a head coach. He’s also the only Bear to take part in the last two championship wins (1963-player, 1985-coach).

Ditka, a former star at Pittsburgh transcended the tight end position in 1961, when he won the NFL Rookie of the Year award. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (1986) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1988), Ditka finished his 12-year career with 427 receptions for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns.

Ditka isn’t shy when it comes to current topics in the football world, especially about his former Bears squad, who he played for from 1961 to 1966. He really likes the direction of the Bears under second-year head coach Marc Trestman.

“I love Marc Trestman. He’s got a good offense. He does some very good things on offense,” Ditka said. “They need to fix the defense. They need help on defense especially in the secondary. They have to get better there.”

Ditka, who earned the nickname of “Da Coach” after 11 seasons as the Bears head coach (1982-1992), compiled a 106-62 record, while winning six division titles. He never believed there was loyalty during his playing days or even during his more recent coaching days.

“There is no loyalty. If you think there is you’re crazy. It’s a dog eat dog world. If they think you can’t help anymore they’ll get rid of you especially if you have a big contract,” Ditka said.”

Brian Urlacher’s recent comments that stated there’s no loyalty with this current Bears organization after Devin Hester was let go on Mar. 6 baffled Ditka.

“Brian was a great Chicago Bear one of the greatest ever, but they don’t care,” he said. “If it’s time to go, then its time to go. I don’t care who you are.”

The Bears officially retired Ditka’s jersey last season, placing him in elite company with 13 other players, including Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. But he said if they never retired the No. 89 jersey “it’s not the end of the world.”

“It’s a nice honor,” Ditka said. “If they wouldn’t have retired my number it wouldn’t have mattered.”

Currently an analyst on ESPN’s NFL Sunday Countdown during the season, Ditka worked “16 hours everyday and would come home thinking about football nonstop”, according to his wife Diana.

Ditka discussed the hottest topics around the league, including Lovie Smith heading to Tampa Bay to coach the Bucs.

“He [Lovie] is a good coach. He will build up that defense and get it back. He’s got some good people,” Ditka said. “He is a little better on the defensive side, but he will have an offense assistant who will get the job done.”

Another hot topic around the NFL is the talk about getting rid of the extra point altogether or moving it back enough to make it a challenging kick.

“If it isn’t broke, why fix it? The extra point is part of football. The rules of football are good,” he said. “A couple guys brainstorm about it with owners, about what? The extra points have nothing to do with hurting the football game or making it better. It’s just a part of the game, and it’s automatic until you miss one.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also is looking into expanding the league’s playoff system to add another wild-card team to each conference giving only the top team on each side a first-round bye.

“The National Football League is a great league, but it’s about making money,” Ditka said. “If they can make more money by adding more playoff teams, then they’ll do it. There’s no question about it.”

NFL Draft and Incognito-Martin feud in Miami

Ditka has no problem with Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who will become the first openly gay football player in NFL history if he gets picked up by a team during or after the draft.

“It’s up to the individual. It’s up to his teammates,” Ditka said. “I think you live in a different world today, and it’s much more acceptable than it was maybe 30 years ago.”

Another controversy in the NFL as of late has been the Incognito and Martin feud down in Miami. Ditka says the Dolphins will be able to move past it.

“They have a good coach. They have a good organization,” he said. “Incognito was probably wrong, but Martin handled it like a baby. He’s a sissy. If he was a man he would have stuck up for himself.”

The San Francisco 49ers traded for Martin earlier this month, reuniting him with his former coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. Ditka doesn’t think Martin will do much with his new team.

“Jim Harbaugh’s a good coach. If anyone can get it out of him Harbaugh can,” Ditka said. “I don’t put much thought into guys like that.”

Ditka isn’t pleased to see longtime CBS analyst Dan Marino be let go. He thinks Marino “would be a huge addition to an NFL organization, possibly in Miami.

Ditka Being Ditka

What is it like being Mike Ditka? Well Ditka had this to say when I asked him this question.

“Well I guess it would be the same thing that you could ask yourself. I like who I am. I like my life,” Ditka said while puffing one of his signature stogies. “I like to be able to smoke a cigar. I’m not politically correct and I’m a conservative. People don’t like that, fine. They don’t like it, but I’m not going to change.”

Ditka finished fourth overall on the Bears’ all-time receiving list with 4,503 yards. Iron Mike also ranks fifth in all-time team receptions (316) and touchdown grabs (34).

Ditka splits half of his years in Naples, FL and Chicago. Golfing with his family during his down time is a big part of his life. His son Mike and wife Diana join him often on the links down in sunny Florida.


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