Five minutes with…Mike Ditka
Now I was having “Da Pork Chop” with Da Coach.
At his steakhouse “Ditka’s” just off the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago, Mike Ditka was kind enough to offer about an hour of his day and allow me to catch up with him.
He’s got his own line of cigars and a new line of gourmet wines, the restaurant chain and does color commentary for ESPN during football season. He’s been heavily involved with GridironGreats.com, a charitable group that helps disabled ex-NFL football players. And not surprisingly, he speaks just as fast as his schedule moves.
He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame and also a former guest conductor of Wrigley Field’s own seventh-inning stretch. While the latter probably runs a distant third to the two other honors, Da Coach has fond memories of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Vine Line: So Coach, when are we going to see you back in the press box helping us conduct the seventh-inning stretch? It’s been a while.
Mike Ditka: Aw, I’ve done it plenty of times, nobody wants to hear me sing anymore.
VL: I’m not so sure about that. C’mon you could just wear a shirt or a hat like Ernie Banks does and it’s right there on TV–your wines or your cigars…
MD: Hey, we got a clothing line, too, ya know.
VL: See? What do you say? We’d love to have you back.
MD: Well, let’s see. Have the Cubs call me and maybe. But the last time I did it, I nearly had a heart attack.
VL: That’s right! I remember that. What happened?
MD: We were late getting to the ballpark. I can’t remember if it was bad traffic or we were just coming back from something. I get to Wrigley, and it’s the top of the seventh already. So we
run up the ramps, darn near sprinting and by the time I get there, the organ’s already playing. I was running fast–and I don’t run anymore, you know–so I just kept singing fast. Some people said they didn’t like it, so what. I was out of breath.
VL: Does coming back to Wrigley Field bring back memories? What was it like to play football at Wrigley Field? [Editor’s note: The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921-70.]
MD: It was great. Everything was so close. The field ran from the leftfield wall to the visitors dugout. Man, a lot of guys took a dive into that dugout after scoring touchdowns. They built these temporary bleachers in rightfield and man, it felt like people were right on top of you.
VL: What is your fondest memory?
MD: Winning the 1963 NFL Championship. We beat the New York Giants. They were a good team, but we were a good team, so it wasn’t a good game because we just cancelled each other out. But I loved winning that championship….Hey, you want some lunch?
VL: No, Coach, you don’t have to do that.
MD: Nah, you gotta eat, kid. Have Da Pork Chop. It’s great.