When the Chicago Bears announced earlier this year that Mike Ditka's number (#89) would be retired on December 9th at Soldier Field during halftime versus the Dallas Cowboys, there were plenty of folks whose first response was "It's about time." Regardless, one of the greatest players AND coaches to ever don the navy and orange is finally getting his due tomorrow night. "It's the consummation of a career," Ditka said.
"It's one of the greatest things you could be honored with. When you mention [Gale] Sayers and [Dick] Butkus and some of the guys who have had their jerseys retired, it's an unbelievable group of men and great players in the NFL and for the Chicago Bears. It's a tremendous honor.
"It's just fantastic and I'm very honored and very pleased. I can honestly say that if it wouldn't have happened it wouldn't have mattered because the joy I had from playing with the Bears was unbelievable. I had a lot of fun doing what I did. I had a great career and a great time."
Ditka was selected 1st (#5 overall) in the 1961 NFL Draft, a season in which he would earn Rookie of the Year honors. Throughout his playing career, he revolutionized the tight end position, and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
After his playing days, he was hired as an assistant coach by Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys, but mailed a letter to George Halas letting him know that he would love to return to Chicago when the time was right. A few years later, Halas decided the time was right, and Ditka came back to Chicago. And of course, he would become the first coach ever to win a Super Bowl for the Bears.
On Monday night, not only is #89 being retired, but the team stated that it would probably be the last. Ditka's number will become the 14th retired by the Chicago Bears, most in the league.
Others retired include: Bronko Nagurski (#3), George McAfee (#5), Halas (#7), Willie Galimore (#28), Walter Payton (#34), Gale Sayers (#40), Brian Piccolo (#41), Sid Luckman (#42), Dick Butkus (#51), Bill Hewitt (#56), Bill George (#61), Clyde "Bulldog" Turner (#66) and Red Grange (#77).
Will Ditka's number truly be the last retired in Chicago? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: If it is, they picked a great one to end with.
Congratulations, Mike Ditka. You're one of the best to ever wear the navy and orange.