Number 59 in the NFL Network’s “Top 100” is Mike Ditka. Ditka was drafted in 1961 out of the University of Pittsburgh by the Chicago Bears in the first round. He was the fifth pick all-around. The coach of the Bears at that time was George Halas.
It seems fitting to spend a little extra time on Mike Ditka, since I am a Chicago Bears fan and he is the first Bear on this list, although hopefully not the last.
At Pittsburgh, Mike Ditka was a consensus All-American. Also, he played a different role as a tight end in that he caught a lot of passes.
Before Ditka, especially in the pro ranks, a tight end primarily blocked. They stayed near the tackle. Ditka says that any team other than the Bears would have made him a linebacker.
Coach Halas of the Bears watched as, under his guidance, Ditka became a feared receiver as well as a vicious blocker. In 1961, Ditka was Rookie of the Year. During that year, he caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Mike Ditka helped the Bears win a championship in 1963, which I watched at age 13. It was some game. While he was with the Bears, he played 84 straight games.
After being with the Bears, he was traded to the Eagles and had two poor years there due to injury. However, then he had four great years at Dallas under Coach Tom Landry. The Cowboys had been struggling to win the one big game like the Super Bowl and had been beaten routinely. Ditka’s “Iron Mike” presence brought the team together and they won Super Bowl VI.
Ditka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. His final numbers were 427 receptions for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns. He was considered the tight end who changed the position and provided the offensive set that freed up the wide receivers. He was also the first tight end taken into the Hall of Fame.
That doesn’t end Mike Ditka’s story. The Chicago Bears were a sad-looking team in the 1970s. They drafted Walter Payton, and he was about the only good player they had. However, in the 1980s, George Halas hired Mike Ditka to coach the Bears. He had been learning under Tom Landry.
Ditka took the Bears to the Super Bowl, where they beat New England. He created a great legacy that year.
The fans agree with the ranking, putting him at 55.
NFL Network Website, “Mike Ditka TE”
Hall of Fame Website, “Mike Ditka”
You Tube Website, “The Top 100 Greatest Players at #59 Mike Ditka”