"Mike Ditka embodies the spirit of everything the Bears are about," Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said to the team's website. "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, a Hall of Famer, coached the 1985 Bears to the Super Bowl XX title and played on the 1963 championship team. He is credited with revolutionizing the tight end position with his pass-catching ability. He ranks first in Bears history among tight ends and fourth overall with 4,502 receiving yards, fifth with 316 catches and 34 touchdowns. The former rookie of the year was a two-time All-Pro and six-time Pro-Bowler.
"To have your jersey retired, it's something that if I went through my life and it never happened, it would never change the love I had for what I had in Chicago playing for the Bears," Ditka said on "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio. "But it's certainly a tremendous honor when you think about the guys who have [had their numbers] retired. And the guys I played with, the Bill Georges, the Dick Butkuses, the Gale Sayers, just those alone ... what a great honor it is."
No. 89 will be the 14th jersey retired by the Bears. McCaskey said it will be the last number retired by the team.
"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," McCaskey told the team's website.
Ditka played for the Bears from 1961-66 and coached the team from 1982-92. He's the only person in the NFL's modern era to win a title as a player and coach with the same team.
"My career with the Bears as a player and a coach, that's been the staple of my life, really. I've enjoyed every moment," he said. "I'm always going to be a Bear. I have as much right to as anybody. I played in '63 when we won, and I coached in '85 when we won, and those are the last two we won. And I happened to be part of a great organization with great management and great ownership, and I'm very proud of that."
Ditka downplayed any rift he had with the Bears over being fired by former team chairman Michael McCaskey after a 5-11 season in 1992, and he praised current chairman George McCaskey.
"I never left. They made a decision based on what they wanted to be, and they had a right to make that decision [in '92]," Ditka said. "And yeah, it hurts, it always hurts when there's a separation or a divorce, let's face it.
"But when George took over running the Bears and he called me, he and [team president] Ted Phillips, and I met with them, the meeting was so cordial. George is a special guy. He probably has a little more vision than somebody else, but it didn't matter. That's not important to me. The main thing is ... I'm very, very honored, and that's the bottom line."