BIGPLAY’s NFL 100: 100 Personalities From the NFL’s First 100 Years: #23 Mike Ditka

Mike Ditka’s larger than life persona shouldn’t distract us from his Hall of Fame career.

Photo Courtesy of Codey Dauch, BIGPLAY

Player, coach, commentator, actor, entrepreneur and near-deity, Mike Ditka has done it all. Ditka is a larger than life character, whether at one of his legendary press conferences or as the spotlight of the Bill Swerski’s Superfans, Ditka’s personality had the opportunity to shine. Before getting into coaching he was a hard-nosed player who revolutionized the tight end position.

In 1961 the Chicago Bears drafted Ditka with the 5th overall pick. With the Bears from 1961 – 1966, Ditka made all five of his Pro Bowl appearances and helped lead the Bears to the 1963 NFL Championship. After two less than stellar years with the Philadelphia Eagles, he joined the Dallas Cowboys. In 1971 Ditka helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins.

Ditka impressed Cowboys coach Tom Landry so much that Landry added him to the Cowboys coaching staff in 1973. From 1973 – 1981 Ditka was the special teams and receivers coach for the Cowboys. In 1977 the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII against the Denver Broncos.

Photo Courtesy of Rob Kozloff, AP Photo

In 1982 Ditka got his first opportunity to be a head coach when he got hired by the Chicago Bears. In his 11 seasons as the coach, he compiled a 106 – 62 record. His most successful season was 1985 when the Bears went 15 – 1 and won Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. Interestingly, four players on the ’85 Bears, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Mike Singletary and Jeff Fisher, went on to head coaches in the NFL. The mid-’80s were the high point of Ditka’s tenure with the team and after going 5 – 11 in 1992 the Bears fired Ditka.

In 1997, the New Orleans Saints hired Ditka as their new head coach. He lasted in New Orleans only three seasons in which he compiled a 15 – 33 record. His big move came in the 1999 NFL Draft when he traded eight picks to move up from the 12th pick to the 5th pick so he could select running back Ricky Williams. The move didn’t help the Saints win and after going 3 – 13 in 1999 Ditka was fired.

Of course, any talk about Mike Ditka would not be complete without discussing his great popularity, partially in thanks to the SNL sketch known as Bill Swerski’s Superfans. In the sketch, the Superfans would sit around a table and discuss the greatness of Chicago sports teams and were especially enamored with Ditka. Additionally, Ditka made guest appearances on TV shows like L.A. Law, Cheers, According to Jim and Entourage. He also had a starring role in the movie Kicking & Screaming.

Ditka, along with Tom Flores are the only two people in NFL history to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Furthermore, Ditka, Flores, Gary Kubiak and Doug Pederson are the only four coaches to win Super Bowls as a coach for a team they played for.   

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