Very few people have had the kind of career Mike Ditka has enjoyed in football. A legendary tight end, Ditka then went onto enjoy a lengthy coaching career that included a Super Bowl win as the Chicago Bears' head coach.
After coaching, Ditka continued to stay close to the game as an analyst for several different networks. He's co-authored several books, has pitched countless products in commercials, made various cameos on TV shows and even played himself in Will Ferrell's 2005 movie "Kicking and Screaming."
In celebration of his 84th birthday (Ditka was born on October 18, 1939), here are five fast facts about the College and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Ditka was first on the lengthy list of players from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (located just outside of Pittsburgh) to make it to the NFL. Ditka is the first of four Aliquippa natives to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of fame. Tony Dorsett followed Ditka into Canton, Ohio in 1994, Ty Law followed suit in 2019 and Darrelle Revis received his gold jacket in 2023.
Like Dorsett, Ditka chose to play college football at nearby Pitt. While he initially went to college to become a dentist, Ditka was destined to pursue a career in pro football after finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting during his final year on campus. His No. 89 is one of 10 numbers that has been retired by the school. One of Ditka's best players in Chicago, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jimbo Covert, had his number retired at Pitt in 2015.
Tight end pioneer
Ditka helped revolutionize the tight end position upon joining the Bears in 1961. As a rookie, he became the first tight end in league history to record over 1,000 receiving yards in a season. His 12 touchdown catches that year also set a single single record for the position.
A Pro Bowler each of his first five seasons with the Bears, Ditka is still fourth in franchise history in career touchdown catches, fifth in receiving yards and sixth in receptions.
"The tight end position is so much more recognized today than it was back then," Ditka said during a 2019 interview with NFL Films. "No one really knew what the heck it was back then, it was relatively a new position.
"I caught 12 passes my senior year in college. Well, I caught 58 my first year in pro ball and caught 12 touchdowns."
Career reprieve in Dallas
Injuries began to slow down Ditka in 1966, his final year with the Bears. He then endured two rocky seasons with the Eagles before he received a call from Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry prior to the start of the 1969 season.
While he was no longer the same player he was earlier in his career, Ditka still found a way to contribute to the Cowboys' offense. He averaged 15.8 yards-per-catch during his first season with the Cowboys and was a member of Dallas' first two teams that advanced to the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl VI, his touchdown catch clinched the Cowboys' convincing win over Don Shula's Miami Dolphins.
Ditka's hat trick
Ditka became the first person to win a Super Bowl as a player, an assistant coach and as a head coach. After hanging up his cleats in 1972, Ditka immediately joined Landry's staff as a special teams/receivers coach. He was in that role when the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl at the end of the 1977 season. During that time, Ditka worked closely with Drew Pearson, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.
After nine years on Landry's staff, Ditka was named the Bears' head coach in 1982. While he endured a losing record in '82, he quickly helped turned things around in the Windy City. With Ditka running the offense and Buddy Ryan presiding over a legendary defense, the Bears went .500 in 1983 before clinching the first of five consecutive playoff berths in 1984.
Chicago came up short against the more established 49ers in the '84 playoffs, but nothing would deny the Bears from tasting glory in 1985. Ditka's team steamrolled opponents that season while becoming one of the most popular teams in league history. The Bears' magical season was capped off by their 46-10 trouncing of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
It proved that The Super Bowl Shuffle hadn't been recorded in vain.#OTD in 1986, the 1985 @ChicagoBears capped off one of the most dominant and memorable seasons of all-time by routing the Patriots, 46-10, to win Super Bowl XX.— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 26, 2023
📹: @NFL pic.twitter.com/wR2k9jlfBl
A crazy trade, and a crazier dress
While the '85 Bears largely defined Ditka's coaching career, his time as a coach is also remembered for the acquisition of Ricky Williams. Then the Saints coach, Ditka signed off on a trade that sent eight draft picks -- including two first round picks -- to Washington in order to move from the No. 12 to No. 5 overall pick in the 1999 draft to select Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
The Saints got Williams (who went onto enjoy a fruitful yet controversial career), but Ditka was relieved of his duties after a 3-13 season in 1999. Along with what they traded to get Williams, Ditka's famous magazine cover photo of himself and Williams (who was wearing a wedding dress) continue to live in infamy.