Page 2 Staff
First, "Iron" Mike Ditka was a player, one of the best all-around tight ends in National Football League history, good enough to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But you have to be of a certain age to remember his playing days, and the famous crew-cut hairstyle he wore under his helmet.
Then, Ditka was a coach, the man in charge of the rollickin' Chicago Bears of the mid-'80s, the team that rolled to an 18-1 record and a Super Bowl romp over the Patriots in the 1985 season behind Walter Payton, Refrigerator Perry, Jim McMahon and the famous '46' defense. That '85 group was one of the best teams the league has ever seen. Some argue that it is the best team the league has ever seen. You may remember him better that way: tough-guy scowl on the sideline, toast of Chi-town.
Later, Ditka and Chicago's love affair with him became the subject of a long-running gag on "Saturday Night Live." Fans of that show will certainly remember him for that, and for the hard-'s' catch-phrase ("Da Bears") that became a part of the popular culture lexicon.
As Ditka, now an analyst for CBS, prepared for his weekend visit to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, ESPN.com's Joe Lago caught up with him for 10 Burning Questions.
1. 1. Who was bigger in Chicago: Michael Jordan during the Bulls' two three-peats, or you during your Bears' heyday?
You can't ask me that. I don't know. But I would say Jordan. He is special. There are a lot of guys who came through Chicago and made a dent, with Ernie Banks and everybody else. But Jordan was special. When you win (six), it's pretty nice. But I think the one event that probably was the greatest in Chicago was the Bears winning the Super Bowl. I think that surpassed all of the championships the Bulls won. I really believe that this city became totally immersed with that football team. (The fans) were totally involved with (the 1985 Bears), and they really related to them . I think it was the biggest sporting event in Chicago.
1a. Who has the better restaurant?
Well, mine is open and his isn't. So mine has to be better.
2. The "Super Bowl Shuffle" video -- thumbs up or thumbs down?
I wasn't in the Super Bowl Shuffle video, and the performances of some of those guys dancing was kind of scary. But it was funny. I really didn't know what they were doing. Actually, it was done to help feed the hungry, and their motive was terrific. Some people took it wrong, like it was an act of conceit. I don't care. If you don't think you're going to win, you're not going to win; and if you think you're not going to win the Super Bowl, you're not going to win the Super Bowl. So that never bothered me. I kind of laughed at it. I thought it was a lot of fun.
3. Your NFL Films highlights show you standing on the sidelines looking mean. Is a crew-cut mandatory for being a tough guy?
No, I don't think it's mandatory. I don't think anything is mandatory for being a tough guy. I think it's an attitude people have. And it's not about trying to be tougher than the other guy. It's just whether you can outlast the other guy. You're going to knock him down more times than he's going to knock you down, period.
4. In the ultimate modern-day tribute, "Saturday Night Live" made a skit of Bears fans hopelessly devoted to you and the team. Do Bears fans really talk -- and act -- like that?
Not quite that bad. But they got pretty carried away with how good the Bears were. That was a spoof. But the people here in Chicago really went off the deep end at times, you know, because they did put the Bears and myself on a pedestal. Whether that's right or wrong ... I kind of laughed at it. I never took it too seriously. I got to know a lot of the guys in the cast and I thought it was funny.
5. Who from your playing days (1961-1972) belongs in the Hall of Fame?
I don't know everybody, but I know Jim Marshall played in more games than any other player. I mean, there are a lot of guys. I think sometimes people get overlooked. I don't know the reasons why they get overlooked, but I do know there are a lot of deserving people. I think the Hall of Fame is not so much about statistics. I think it's about how you played the game -- what did you contribute to the game? That's the most important thing I see: Play the game the way it's supposed to be played, play it hard and fair. I think that's what really counts. We had a lot of guys back in that era who did that.
6. End the argument now. Which team was better? The '72 Dolphins or the '85 Bears? If they played, what would have been the deciding factor?
I don't argue that question with anybody. The Dolphins were fantastic. They are the only undefeated team in the history of the NFL -- well, in the modern era, anyways. If that's the criteria, then they were better. But our football team was awfully good. There are only two teams in the NFL that went 18-1, and I think that was the 49ers (1984) and the Bears. After losing the one game (to Miami on a Monday night), we managed to win 18 games that year. I would say we were good; but with anybody who goes undefeated, you have to realize how special that is. I think that's a tribute to that football team. They were a great football team, and they were coached by a great coach (Don Shula).
7. You're known for being a tough guy. Which player in the NFL right now reminds you of you?
I wouldn't slight anybody by saying they remind me of me. Tight end is kind of a changed position. People don't call on the tight end to block as much like they used to, but (Jeremy) Shockey in New York is a good football player. He's one of the best I've seen. He's got great talent catching the ball and running with the football; and, evidently, he's a darn good blocker. I haven't watched all of the film on him; but of the games I've watched, it looks like he's willing to go in there and block anybody.
I think that's the difference between the old guys and the new guys: They don't ask them to block as much. And the guys who do block, it's kind of special. A few years back, Mark Bavaro played with the Giants. He never got a lot of acclaim, but he was a good tight end because he did everything. I always look at guys who do everything. Guys will say, "I caught 102 passes." So what? Did your team win? Did you have a good running game because you were helping somebody gain yardage? That's what I look at.
8. Who's the best tight end you ever saw? Why? Who's the second best?
I saw a lot of them. But when it comes to running with the football, I don't think anybody ran any better than John Mackey. I don't think anybody ran much faster than Jackie Smith. And I don't know if anybody blocked better than Ron Kramer. I was kind of a combination. I did a lot of things. But if you're talking about guys who were individually good, there were a lot of them. Kellen Winslow was a great tight end, and Ozzie (Newsome) was, too. I could go on and on and on. I hate to use "who's the greatest ever" because there is no greatest ever. But certainly John Mackey was an interesting guy. I tell you what: When he caught the football, it was fun to watch him.
9. If you could change one thing in the NFL, what would it be?
The overtime rule. It's silly. It doesn't make any sense. Seventy percent of the games are determined by the team that wins the coin toss. Get a life. It's time for the owners and the league to get a life. Wake up. It's a bad rule. Change it. Make the game better. Give both sides a fair chance. You play the game for 60 minutes. You fight your heart out. And all of a sudden, one coin toss determines 70 percent of the time who's going to win the game? Give me a break. That's wrong. The college rule is 100 percent better.
But there are other ways to do it besides the college rule. One way would be to give both teams at least one possession. If one team scores, give the other team a chance to score and match that. There's a lot of ways you can do it. I'm not a genius. But the college rule isn't that bad.
10. What was your biggest regret in football as a player, coach or GM?
I don't have a lot of regrets. I don't live in the past. I don't have a lot of regrets. I took the good with the bad. You always wish you could've won a few more games. I guess if I have one regret, I would've made sure (Walter) Payton scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. That was the only thing that ever came back to haunt me -- the fact that he never scored. Because I never thought about it. I really didn't. He was such a great guy and a great player, and I never realized how much it meant to him.
Actually, he was kind of a decoy in that game. Everything that New England did was keyed to him, so we kind of used (Matt) Suhey as the guy to run the ball. So that's the only regret I have.
10a. Will Ricky Williams ever prove that he's worth six draft picks?
Listen, he's already proved it. In fact, who does he have to prove it to? The media? C'mon. Who does he have to prove it to? Some general manager of another team or some coach of another team because they didn't agree with the move that was made? The move we made was a good move because we needed Ricky Williams and we didn't need all of those draft picks. And as a result, when we left New Orleans, we left them with a pretty good situation salary-cap wise and with a hell of a football player.
Now, the football-player end of it didn't work out because of the new people that came in. Fine. He's working out very well in Miami. He's a good football player. He's a Heisman Trophy winner. He would've gained . . . I think he would've been right at or near 2,000 yards last year if they (the Dolphins) wouldn't have gotten behind in two football games. That's my opinion. You run him behind a good football team, you're going to gain yardage.