One of the legendary figures in Pitt football history is MIKE DITKA, who played under Coach John Michelosen from 1958-1960.
“Iron Mike” was a fierce tight end and defensive lineman for the Panthers, whose immense athletic skills and competitive drive earned him All-America honors at Pitt. He led the Panthers in receiving for three straight years. Ditka then went on, of course, to earn All-Pro honors as a tight end in the NFL.
He received enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Two years later, Ditka received his “Canton Call” and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was a member of the Chicago Bears’ 1963 NFL championship team and the Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI champions.
But it was at Pitt that Ditka first earned fame for his competitive fury and relentless will to win.
“You’d see him in the huddle, or on the sidelines waiting to get back onto the field, and you knew just by looking at him he was ready,’’ remembers Foge Fazio, a teammate of Ditka’s who later served as Pitt’s head coach in the mid-1980s. “He was always ready. He was like a prize fighter in the ring. He just couldn’t wait for that bell to ring and get back out there.’’
Ditka’s number 89 was retired by the University of Pittsburgh at halftime of the Pitt-Miami game in 1997, 37 years after his final collegiate season.
Mike Ditka – TE, Chicago Bears (1961-1966), Philadelphia Eagles (1967*-68), Dallas Cowboys (1969-1972)
Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1988
Selected in the first round, fifth player overall, of the 1961 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears as well as in the first round of the AFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. The Bears signed him to the contract. Meanwhile, the Oilers picked up the Bears’ previous end, Willard Dewveall, who had played out his option with the Bears and wasn’t resigned after the team got Ditka.
First tight end ever elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, there are eight players at that position with bronze busts in Canton.
Scored on a 70-yard TD pass play in his first NFL preseason game. “That play gave me confidence to be a pro. I knew it wasn’t impossible for me to outrun those guys,” he shared.
“Iron Mike” was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1961 after he caught a staggering 56 passes for 1,076 yards and scored 12 TDs.
Registered a career-high 75 catches in 1964 despite suffering a bad shoulder injury in preseason that forced him to real a protective harness throughout the season.