A timeless classic

"The best player I've ever been around was Mike Ditka," Petitbon said. "If he wanted to play defense he would have been a fabulous linebacker. He was a great competitor."

That was evident from the beginning. In his 1961 rookie season, he caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the rest of the NFL had no idea how to defend against him.

"Nobody knew what the hell a tight end was," Ditka said. "Halas and (assistant coach) Luke Johnsos were designing a lot of plays for me. They had a great concept. In those days you were covered by a linebacker or safety, and they weren't cover guys. You could beat them."

And beat them he did. But he paid a price.

Ditka has had foot surgery, shoulder surgery, two knee surgeries and two hip surgeries. He also suffered a heart attack while he was a coach and a stroke more recently.

He wouldn't change any of it though.

"If you could have as much fun as I had playing football, and get complimented for it, that's pretty good," he said. "I watch some of these guys playing, and I know I had a lot more fun than they're having. And the game meant a lot more to me."

It meant a lot more to him than a lot of coaches too. How many of them could you imagine breaking their hand by punching a locker in a pregame speech?

Ditka won two NFL championships as a player, one as an assistant coach and one as a head coach. The most special was in 1985.

"When you do it as a head coach like in '85, it surpasses everything because it is an organizational thing," he said. "Everybody is involved — scouts, coaches, management, players. That's what I enjoyed about it."

Always, it was about the team with Ditka.

It probably was unintentional. Maybe it was our minds playing tricks on us, but when the team came out with that logo of a roaring bear's head in the 1980s, it appropriately looked a little like a man as well as an animal.

Ditka.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei

CHICAGO

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