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updated: 5/24/2013 1:56 PM

Bears to honor Ditka and retire No. 89

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  • The Bears will honor former player and head coach Mike Ditka this season by retiring his No. 89 jersey.

       The Bears will honor former player and head coach Mike Ditka this season by retiring his No. 89 jersey.
    RICK WEST | Staff Photographer/file

 
 

Well, it's about time.

Forty-seven years after he played his last game for the Bears as a Hall of Fame tight end, and 27 years after he coached them to their only Super Bowl championship, the team will retire Mike Ditka's No. 89.

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He is the only player in the NFL's modern era to win a title with the same team as both a player (1963) and head coach (1985).

"It's a tremendous honor," Ditka said in a statement released by the Bears. "It's something that I didn't anticipate or expect, but it's a great honor. When you think of all the great Bears players who have had their jerseys retired, I can't say that there's any greater honor. I'm very humbled by it and very thankful that (Bears chairman) George (McCaskey) made the decision to go ahead and do that."

Ditka, 73, is the 14th Bear to have his number retired, the most of any team in the NFL. He likely will be the last.

"After this, we do not intend to retire any more numbers," McCaskey said. "But we thought if there is going to be a last one, there is no more appropriate one than 89."

The ceremony will be held at halftime of the Bears' Dec. 9 Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys, with whom Ditka won two more Super Bowl rings. The first was as a player and the other as a special teams coach, the position he held before being named Bears head coach by team founder George Halas, McCaskey's grandfather.

Among Bears coaches who served more than three years, only Halas compiled a better winning percentage than Ditka, and only Halas has more regular-season wins than "Da Coach," who had 106 over 11 seasons.

"Mike Ditka embodies the spirit of everything the Bears are about," McCaskey said. "He's an icon. The last time we won the championship, Mike Ditka was our coach, and the last time we won before that, Mike Ditka was a player. The organization knew it was the right thing to do."

As a player, Ditka was an integral part of the Bears' 1963 NFL championship team, catching 59 passes and helping to transform the tight end position. Before Ditka, who in 1988 became the first player at that position elected to the Hall of Fame, the tight end was little more than an extra offensive lineman.

In his six seasons with the Bears, who drafted him in the first round in 1961, Ditka caught 316 passes for 4,503 yards and 34 touchdowns. He led the team in receiving yardage in each of his first three seasons, and either led or tied for the team lead in receptions. Ditka played six more seasons after being traded to the Eagles, two in Philadelphia and four in Dallas.

"He revolutionized the tight end position as a player," McCaskey said, "and grabbed an entire franchise by the throat as a head coach and willed it to victory in the Super Bowl."

Ditka, who is a commentator/analyst for ESPN, was well known for his passion as a player and as a coach. He clashed with opposing players, opposing fans, media and even those in the Bears' organization. After a 5-11 campaign in 1992, he was fired as head coach by then-chairman Michael McCaskey, George's older brother.

During a contract dispute with coach-owner Halas that preceded his trade to the Eagles, Ditka famously quipped: "Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers."

But, in his six seasons with the team, Ditka was named to five Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro. He was named rookie of the year in 1961, catching 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In his six seasons with the team, Ditka was named to five Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro.

Now, 25 years after entering the Hall of Fame, Ditka will finally be honored by the team with which he will always be linked.

"It's the consummation of a career," he said. "It's one of the greatest things you could be honored with. When you mention (Gale) Sayers and (Dick) Butkus and some of the guys who have had their jerseys retired, it's an unbelievable group of men and great players in the NFL and for the Chicago Bears.

"I can honestly say that, if it wouldn't have happened, it wouldn't have mattered because the joy I had from playing with the Bears was unbelievable. I had a lot of fun doing what I did. I had a great career and a great time."

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