Hall of Famer Q&A with Mike Ditka

General Published on : 10/11/2001
What was it like playing for both George Halas and Tom Landry during your pro career?
MD: Well, I think you're talking about two different things. You're talking about two different types of coaches totally. I mean, Coach Landry was one kind of coach and Coach Halas was a different kind of coach. But, they were both gentleman and they were both good for the game of football. They were different in what they did. The way they did things - they were totally different. Tom was a teacher, more of a teacher than Mr. Halas. Mr. Halas was more of a guy - not that he wasn't an innovator, he taught the game, I don't mean to say he wasn't a teacher - but he was more of an inspirer. He was more of a guy that was more motivational, tried to inspire you by being motivational and things like that. But, Coach Landry was probably as good of a teacher as there ever was in the game.

I have been a huge fan of yours for years. If given the right circumstances, would you coach again? - Dean Cliver, New Jersey
(laugh) I say no, but it would have to be really the right circumstances.

Coach Ditka - rate the players of today with those of your era on loyalty, heart, desire, and sure love for the game. Who has more of these qualities? Thanks, Bear Fan Jim
MD: Well, I think the difference is that in the old days, the game was played, it was not that you didn't play for a living, you played for a living. But, you weren't going to get rich playing for a living. What you were going to do, you were going to just play the game because you loved the game. I think there was a little more loyalty than there is today, I really do. Today, the money factor - and I don't blame them, I mean, it's just the way it is. They didn't make the rules, the rules are that. They're making so much money.

Mr. Ditka - What is your most memorable game as a Chicago Bear player? And as a Coach of the Bears and the Saints? - Doug Watson, Scotland
Most memorable game as a player was the 1963 Championship Game. And, that was a tremendous game and it was fun to be a part of that. We had a great defense then, and we had a bunch of great guys - it was fun. You know, that Super Bowl with Dallas was a lot of fun - with Staubach and Coach Landry - that was fun. Those two things are part of my main memories. The main memory as a coach, of course, is the Super Bowl in New Orleans, against New England. It was 46-10 and that was a great game.


Mr. Ditka - I am still convinced that the 1985 Chicago Bears were one of the best teams in the history of the NFL. Besides good players and a good coaching staff, what made the team so awesome? By the way, did you feel any disappointment losing to Miami that year, or did you just shrug it off, knowing you were nearly invincible anyway? - Steve S., California
MD: I think we always feel disappointment but I think that caused us to refocus and we became a better team after that happened. And that's when we went on to win the Super Bowl. But, the Miami loss was just a loss. There's only two teams in the history of the game that have gone 18-1 - us and the 49ers. And that's something to be proud of. Well, we didn't have an undefeated season but we won 18 games that year, and that's pretty significant. But, what it did is, I think, it made the guys refocus, it really did. I don't think we did our best job that day as coaches and I think Coach Shula did a great job. It kind of put us behind the eight ball, we were trying to do things that we shouldn't of been doing. And, we should have just gone back to playing our game and not worry too much about what the heck they were doing.

Coach, as a long time Bear fan I would love to get your take on the way you feel about how the fans (in Chicago) have taken to you and made you one of our own. You might be from Aliquippa, PA but you'll always be a Chicagoan. - Dan Gaut
MD: Well, I think there are certain kind of guys that are Pittsburgh guys or Chicago guys and I think I fit into that mold because it's something I tried to get across to our players when I coached here was, hey, this is a great city, and the nickname of the city is the 'City of the Big Shoulders, Broad Shoulders' and you know the Grabowskis, the working man, that's what I wanted to get across. That we were going to go out and go to work every day, work as hard as we can, take our lunch bucket and that was going to be our chore. And, I think the fans really responded to that because they loved the type of football we played. We had a great defense - hardnosed - got after people. And, offensively we challenged people. We ran the ball - we had enough of the good plays, the passing plays and all that - but we had a great running game because we had Walter Payton. It was that simple.

PS: When dining at Ditka's should I go for the steak or the chop?
MD: Well, I tell you, (you) can't go wrong with either one because that paddle steak is as good as it gets anywhere in the country and the pork chop is better than anything you'll get.

You were tough, no doubt about that! But of the opponents, who was the toughest player in your era? - David Payne, Raleigh, North Carolina
The toughest guy I ever played against was Ray Nitschke. I mean, I played against Butkus a couple of times but Ray and I were friends, it was different. We had such a great rivalry with Green Bay. He was a physical, tough guy and he was a great football player. And he was one of the main reasons the Packers won those championships. So, I would say that if I had to pick one guy, it would be Ray Nitscke.

Hi Coach, since I am 31 yrs. old I grew up watching you as Da Coach. As Da Coach how do you feel about Emmitt Smith possibly breaking Walter Payton's all-time rushing record? - Bob McCrory, Westmont, IL
MD: Well, I think, if anybody were to do it, I think Walter would want Emmitt to do it. Emmitt is truly a class individual. I think what everybody has to understand is that records are set to be broken, really. You know, nobody thought anybody would break McGwire's record and Bonds breaks it. I mean, the all-time rushing record - Jimmy Brown held it for a long time and then Walter broke it. Now, if someone breaks it and if it is Emmitt, and what it requires is a lot of durability and longevity. He's such a class individual, I think that would be very pleasing to Walter.


Mike, you are truly a football player legend. How would you compare your style of play to the tight ends of today, like Shannon Sharpe? - John I. Espinosa, Johnstown Colorado
Well, Sharpe is probably a better athlete, I think. I think our athleticism was good but he's probably a better athlete in a lot of ways. We had to do everything - we were another tackle, we blocked - we caught the ball. The offenses weren't that sophisticated so it was a little different. They could hold you on the line of scrimmage; they could grab a hold of your necktie.
So, I think it was a more physical game for the tight end than it is today. But, these kids today are great athletes and I wasn't that good of athlete. I just played the game hard because that's what I wanted to do.

Do you have any anger towards the New Orleans franchise for not really allowing you to get something done with the Saints? - Uwe Stephan
Not at all. Not at all. We had a chance and it was a great opportunity. I thought we did some good things - Bill Kuharich and myself - I thought did some real good things bringing people in there. But, the bottom line in anything is do you win or do you lose? We didn't win and when you don't win, you're not going to be around.

Coach - since you coached a Hall of Fame running back and you are a Hall of Famer yourself, I'm sure you have a good idea of the make-up of a Hall of Fame player, whether at TE or RB. Therefore, now that Jerome Bettis has eclipsed 10,000 yards rushing yards and he very well could be on his way to 12,000+, does he have a good chance at the Hall? - Chris
I think so. I think the Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor and it's a great individual honor to anybody who gets in it. There are so many people in the Hall of Fame right now that are deserving. I was on the senior committee and really it's hard to say that any of those senior guys who were brought up shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame and I really believe that in the bottom of my heart. I think sometimes it's not about yardage, and records, and completions, and catches. It's about how you play the game - what do you give the game of football. And, I think Jerome Bettis has given it a whole lot.

Mike, the 1985 Bears had, arguably, the best defense of any team in league history. However, it was the use of William "The Refrigerator" Perry as a back during the season that gave that championship team its folklore persona. Whose idea was it to use "The Fridge" in that role and how did that idea come about? - Bob Dublin, OH
MD: Well, I watched him in practice one day, we were running wind sprints. And, I watched how fast he came off the ball for five to ten yards. And this was when William was in really great shape. And you could see the dirt flying out behind his feet, and I said 'you know, this guy would be something if he could hold onto the ball, you handed it to him, or we'd use him as a lead blocker.' Because he generated so much power in a five-yard run, by the time he hit the line of scrimmage, it was almost impossible for any normal guy to stand up to him unless he tried to cut him. And basically, it was my idea to do it. And, when we did it, I think a couple of the coaches said, 'we got to be nuts.' Then, it got to be a thing about 'well, if he can block for a touchdown, why can't he run for a touchdown, why can't he throw for a touchdown, why can't he catch a touchdown?' And, he did all those except he didn't throw. And the only reason is, was the guy was open and he overthrew him.

Coach, a lot of people like to collect autographs from Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers, but many players and former players only sign for children, or at card shows, etc., leaving a lot of legitimate adult collectors and fans -- not dealers -- out in the cold. What's your personal policy on signing autographs, both in person and through the mail? - Brad Lockard, Flatwoods, KY
Well, I don't want to brag or complain but I sign more than anybody around. Probably (more than) anybody in the league and anytime I get one, I sign it. If it's sent to me through the Hall of Fame or through CBS or to my address which I still get forwarded mail from New Orleans, I sign everything. I think that's important, it's a little bit you give back. I don't expect that my signature's worth anything. I mean, if people want it, that's fine. I do do card shows once in a while but that's once in a long while - that's not a big deal to me.

Hall of Famer Q&A Archive

Week 1: Frank Gifford
Week 2: Lem Barney

Week 3: Willie Lanier
Week 4: Ken Houston