Ditka Day in Illinois; 'Da Coach' jersey retired by Chicago Bears

December 9, 2013 (CHICAGO)

PHOTOS: Da Coach, Mike Ditka

The Hall-of-Famer said Monday night that he's been living the dream for 74 years. Ditka was known as a tough player and coach, but on Monday night he was reflective and humble. After his number was retired, he said he just hoped that Mr. Halas would approve.

It was all about Da Coach, from game programs to his towering presence as fans walked into soldier field and snapped away.

"Some people believe in Jesus Christ, and that's cool and all. I believe in Mike Ditka," said Mike Wick, Ditka fan.

Ditka is the reason some fans came all the way from Canada. They grew mustaches in honor of Ditka, while others decided a fake one would suffice.

"He is the epitome of Chicago Bears football. . . Everyone knows him as coach, but he was a great player," said Tim Bennett, Ditka fan.

And it's Ditka's years as a player that have earned him an honor that many fans say is long overdue: retiring his number 89. It's a honor that has humbled a man that is not easily humbled.

"It's like the icing on the cake, it's the final candle, whatever you want to call it. It's been a helluva run," said Ditka.

His run includes a Super Bowl as a player and a coach, an achievement that is not lost with these Bears fans. And Ditka says he couldn't have done it without them.

"They're pretty supportive in this city and they've always been. I've been very blessed," said Ditka.

Ditka gave a special shoutout to the Cowboys tonight, specifically Coach Tom Landry. Landry is the one who gave Ditka his first coaching job. The halftime ceremony was quite quick, and Ditka went on the field without a hat or gloves. He said after the ceremony that, at age 74, he doesn't take himself too seriously anymore.

'Mike Ditka Day' declared in Illinois

Gov. Pat Quinn declared Monday "Mike Ditka Day." The Hall of Famer's jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony as the Bears hosted the Dallas Cowboys. Tailgaters at Soldier Field said the game belongs to Da Coach.

"You don't start the game by thinking you gotta make Hall of Fame or get your number retired. You start it playing coaching because you love it. It's given me a lot a lot more than I've given it," Ditka said.

Ditka was a first-round draft pick in 1961. In the statement declaring it Mike Ditka Day in Illinois, Quinn called Da Coach "the best tight end of all time." Many Chicago Bears fans agree. He played with the Bears until 1966, returning as coach in 1982. In 1985, he took the team to the Super Bowl.

Ditka left the Bears in 1992, but is still considered a beloved figure among fans.

"The people in the city have adopted me and they have made me feel very special. I really appreciate, fans are terrific. Do I understand it? No," Ditka said.

Ditka also got his own special license plates, presented by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. Both are navy blue and orange with the Chicago Bears logo. One reads "Ditka" the other has the number "89" on it.

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