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updated: 12/9/2013 5:30 AM

Like him or not, Ditka synonymous with Bears

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  • It's highly fitting Mike Ditka will have his No. 89 retired by the Bears on Monday night.

      It's highly fitting Mike Ditka will have his No. 89 retired by the Bears on Monday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

Finding the perfect Christmas gift for the man who has everything always is a daunting challenge.

The Bears were up to the task, however, and will present Mike Ditka with his No. 89 jersey Monday night at halftime of their game against the Cowboys.

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Naughty or nice, the big lug had this one coming.

Ditka wore the number with the Bears from 1961 through 1966 as a Hall of Fame tight end. Now he can roll it up, frame it on a wall, throw it to the bottom of a closet, wear it to bed every night or include it in a garage sale.

This Bears' gesture on "Monday Night Football" represents reconciliation between Ditka and the team he won the 1963 NFL championship with as a player and Super Bowl XX with as a head coach.

Differences with former club chairman Mike McCaskey drove Ditka from the team after his coaching days here. This year current club chairman George McCaskey donned a chauffeur's cap and drove Ditka back into the Bears' family.

The legendary Iron Mike has been missed as the Bears' growling, grousing, grunting, snarling, sneering, smirking face of the franchise that succeeded George Halas in the role.

Ditka bridges the Bears from No. 89 in Wrigley Field to Da Coach in the old Soldier Field to Monday night's ceremony in the new Soldier Field.

When I was a kid, Ditka brutalized every defender in his way during six seasons as the Bears' tight end, After I became a newspaperman, Ditka bullied everybody in his way for 11 seasons.

The ride has been fun from then to now, bruises and all.

Perhaps more than anything I miss the sport that Ditka symbolizes: The rock 'em-sock-'em violence that new rules, health concerns and political correctness have a responsibility to soften.

Old-time football elevated strong figures like Halas, Ditka, Walter Payton and Dick Butkus onto the Mount Rushmore of Chicago football.

Bears like them had texture to them. When Ditka roamed first the field and then the sideline for the Bears, there always was a there there.

Ditka was likable and unlikable all in one wacky package. He was easy to like, just as easy to dislike, sometimes both by the same observer, sometimes both in the same sentence.

First consider last week when the media interrogated current Bears head coach Marc Trestman for two days over an in-game decision. Then imagine how Ditka would have handled being asked to explain over and over why he had his kicker attempt a field goal on second down.

There wouldn't have been any prepared notes, P.R. prepping or poppycock propriety. Ditka would have stepped to the podium, grumbled a "fire away, men" and fired back non-answer answers.

We're talking great theater.

Flames would have flared from Ditka's nostrils, smoke from his ears and brimstone from his lips. Perhaps in the middle of the session a reporter would have stormed from the room in protest, forgetting it was a privilege to be barked at by the best barker in all of sports.

Look, a football coach isn't a clergyman, schoolteacher or social worker. He's a freaking football coach.

Ditka declared once, "I always tell people I want to live to be 150 and they say why would you want to do that. I say, well, there's a few people I haven't made mad yet. I want to get them."

That isn't a civilized attitude, but football isn't a civilized sport, which might be why the Bears need someone like Ditka back on the fringes of the franchise at least and at last.

Monday night's official reunion is a Christmas gift for the odd Bears fan who also has everything.

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