Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO — There will never be another Mike Ditka, a football coach who became a cultural force of nature, and now there will never be another No. 89 for the Chicago Bears.
Ditka, who won an NFL championship as a tight end for George Halas in 1963 and coached the Bears to a Super Bowl in 1985, finally got his jersey retired Monday night in a halftime ceremony in a game against his other franchise, the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think Mr. Halas would approve,” he said in a news conference.
Without a hat to cover his trademark mane of hair, Ditka shivered through a brief ceremony in the frigid cold — the wind chill was minus-9 degrees at the start of the game — that included his Hall of Fame bust and a Super Bowl trophy. He ended it by saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and with a thrust of his fist, “Go Bears!”
After that was over, Ditka came into the Bears news conference room with a clear message.
“OK, we’re going to do this like the old days, real quick, c’mon,” he said, before speaking from the heart for eight minutes.
The 74-year-old Ditka is still ubiquitous in Chicago, and throughout football. He has steakhouses around Chicagoland, a variety of commercials and is a weekly contributor to ESPN 1000 radio and ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” studio show. He makes big money from speeches across the country.
“I’m just having fun with it,” he said of his never-ending popularity. “I can tell you honestly, probably the best thing that can happen is when you stop taking yourself so damn serious. And I quit. I don’t take myself serious.”
Because of the worldwide popularity of the shuffling 1985 Super Bowl team — not to mention those “Saturday Night Live” skits — Ditka’s fame far outstrips any Chicago athlete, past or present, outside Michael Jordan. Few fans have tired of Da Coach.
“Going through airports is pretty interesting,” Ditka said. “I think I have an obligation to do those things. I think when you don’t have time for people, you’ve got a problem.”
Once a notorious grouch, Ditka is now America’s Grandpa. He doesn’t plan on leaving the public eye anytime soon.
“I want to stick around in the present for a while and try to figure out what the heck’s going on,” Ditka said. “Whatever the future brings, I hope I can accept. I have no regrets about the past. I shouldn’t say that. Like Sinatra said, regrets, I have a few, but too few to mention.”