O'Donnell: Ditka is feisty, feeling blessed and grateful on his 80th birthday
MIKE DITKA CELEBRATED his 80th birthday Friday.
He played some golf in the morning at The Olde Florida Club in Naples, which he owns a piece of near his winter home.
Later, he and wife Diana Ditka headed to dinner with "about 10 friends."
On the telephone in between, he sounded like it might as well have been his 24th.
That would have been back in the autumn of 1963 when he and Johnny Morris were catching Bill Wade passes as the Bears finished 11-1-2 and won an NFL championship.
And he and fullback Joe Marconi were living across the street from each other in Lombard, commuting together to some practices at the old Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Niles and games and workouts at Wrigley Field.
And he and Ed O'Bradovich were spending an odd evening now and again at Pat Haran's original pub near State and Rush, periodically being visited by real no-nonsense Chicago PD Sgt. Dan Groth to be reminded about watching their exuberant young p's and q's.
"Hey, I could always be a real pain in the ass and I'm probably worse now than ever," Ditka told The Daily Herald.
"Now I've got a pacemaker and some stents and I'm taking it one day at a time.
"This aging (stuff) is for (the birds).
"But I'm lucky. I can still have some great times, so I do.
"The whole thing is a blessing, life, my life, and I realized that long ago.
"So if you ask me my single biggest feeling today, I'd just say grateful."
He's also watching his beloved Bears from a distance and likes what he sees.
"I like what (Matt) Nagy's doing, I like what he's trying to do with (Mitch) Trubisky and I'm not telling you a thing you don't know to tell you that they've got one of the best defenses in the league.
"That defense could be almost as good as we had back in 1985 and that '85 defense was as good as any there's ever been in the National Football League.
"The one game we lost, that Monday night in Miami, (the Dolphins) did things that you couldn't get away with in today's NFL.
"They were running so many slots that we wound up trying to cover too many wide receivers with linebackers.
"That was a formula for disaster and (Dan) Marino buried us."
Any advice for Nagy?
"None. He knows what he's doing and if you really want to break it down, all they've got to do is take care of Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota and then win three games in January.
"That's it. No secret formula. No secret recipe."
And thoughts on being 80?
"The number is beyond belief. Hell, back in '63, we thought Coach (George) Halas was ancient and he was only 68.
"Here's the whole thing. I've led a life beyond blessed. Not perfect, but incredibly blessed.
"Two key moments came in 1961, when Coach Halas hired me as a player, and in 1982, when Coach Halas hired me as a head coach.
"So I'll always love the Chicago Bears and I'll always be rooting for them.
"Really, that's it.
"Now I just wish I could still hit a golf ball long instead of all this short and straight crap."
STREET-BEATIN': The Bears-Saints game will air to only two-thirds of the nation Sunday (Fox, 3:25 p.m.; Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman). Fox will televise the Ravens-Seahawks up and down much of both coasts and as far inland as Ghoulardi's Cleveland. … The Big ain't Easy all of a sudden with news of Zion Williamson's knee problem. The NBA's TV partners will likely scramble to adjust broadcast schedules if Baby Z is still sitting very deep into a no-NO November. … Jody, Buffy, Mr. French and a World Series featuring the Nationals and Yankees would all have constituted family affairs. WASH assistant GM Bob Boone is the father of NYY skipper Aaron Boone. … As expected, the MLB postseason is Mach tanking with Chicago viewers, posting absolutely "Best of Maury Povich" numbers. (Snoozy draws as snoozy is; the Nationals winning Game 1 of the WS on the road Tuesday night could juice things among the faded fringe.) … NBCSCH took a hit with its 2019 White Sox viewership. According to Sports Broadcast Journal, the Rick Hahn-chiseled Sox drew the third-lowest average audience among MLB regionals (0.95), topping only the A's (0.76) and the Marlins (0.83). Winning exacta was the Cards (6.59) and the Indians (6.55). … Yes, accepting the scheduling of an Ohio State-Northwestern football game in Evanston for a C-list Friday night TV slot was plumb dumb. But all of the ire pointed at once-ascending NU athletic director Jim Phillips seems a bit excessive (even if he has passed Theo Epstein's theoretic 10-year bailout point in his current post.) … Gayle Mitchell reports that Chicago Wolves winger Keegan Kolesar was charming the wee people and others at Peggy Kinane's in downtown Arlington Heights. … Girls Just Want To Have Fans: Despite the presence of charismatic superstar Elena Delle Donne, the five-game Mystics-Sun series on ESPN/ABC properties was the lowest-rated WNBA Finals since 2013. Average audience was a deflating 381,000. … And Bears punter Pat O'Donnell, asked what he thought after seeing Joaquin Phoenix in "Joker," deadpanned, "I think I've got my next nightmare planned."
• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at email@example.com.