Ditka still the face of Da Bears
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Former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka will have his No. 89 retired by the Bears next December. He'll be the 14th player honored by the franchise by having his jersey retired.
JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer
As everyone in Chicago knows by now, the Bears will finally retire Mike Ditka's No. 89 on Dec. 9 when they play the Dallas Cowboys.
The planets have aligned and the head man for the blue-and-orange franchise, George McCaskey, has lifted the cloud hovering over Ditka since his departure from the club after the 1992 season.
For years, the Bears appeared to pretend Ditka didn't exist. Regardless of his great play, a Super Bowl championship as a coach and his massive popularity, they continued to downplay his role and impact.
There was one problem: Ditka didn't go away after his ceremonial firing. He was everywhere — on radio, TV, endorsing products and owning successful restaurants.
When the Bears let Ditka go, many fans left the Bears, at least emotionally. Then, after ESPN put him on its Sunday football show, his brand grew even stronger.
As he mellowed, he became even more popular. From "Saturday Night Live" to feature motion pictures to still living here and making Chicago his home, Ditka remained, in some way, the face of the Bears — like it or not.
I remember when Ditka took the New Orleans Saints job, I told the higher ups at the Score I wanted to take the show to La Crosse, Wis., where the Saints were practicing, instead of taking the crew to Bears training camp in Platteville. I was initially met with some opposition, because most of the media was fawning over the new head coach, Dave Wannstedt.
My argument was we should cover both because there still was interest in Ditka on an intense level. Besides, I suspected Dave Wannstedt was never going to be another Ditka, and I think I can safely say I was right on that observation.
Ditka was (and still is) good copy, and he was entertaining on the air. We did cover both training camps with a lot of success, so it ended up being a good move.
If Ditka was named the head coach of the Bears tomorrow, can you imagine how wired the town would be? The Bears were never able to really replace him with anyone as charismatic.
Who knows, maybe that was always the plan. But it is really good to see both sides have calmed down, and the Bears have done the right thing.
Time had to pass to heal the wounds. Ditka was culpable for the estrangement too, but after more than two decades the Bears are whole again. Ditka is officially back in the fold and getting a place of honor, which he deserves.
I think now the question is this: would you consider Ditka the greatest living Bear?
Watch me on "Mancow" on WPWR Ch. 50 at 6 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Monday.
• Mike North's column appears each Tuesday and Friday in the Daily Herald, and his video commentary can be found Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at dailyherald.com. For more, visit northtonorth.com.
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