Don't worry. I won't do this entire review in Superfans-speak because Ditka's fan base is just as multifaceted and complex as the man himself. Just as his fans are more than these guys, Ditka is more than "Da Coach." The NFL Network's latest installment of "A Football Life" covers all of the facets of the man.
It starts with plenty of footage from Ditka's playing days, which is welcome to the large contingent of fans who only knew Ditka as a coach. Seeing how he revolutionized the tight end position shed light on why he was the first at that position enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The show took an honest look at why he left Chicago, his struggles in Philadelphia, and how Tom Landry resurrected his career in Dallas.
It was Landry who brought Ditka into the coaching ranks, but the only team he wanted to coach was the Bears. "It was the only job that ever meant anything to me," Ditka said. The NFL Network looks at his tenure in Chicago as a whole. His tumultuous relationships with quarterbacks, his lack of love for Chicago media, and the overwhelming nature of the Bears are all discussed. The Super Bowl win is spotlighted, but his overgrown celebrity and health problems are also mentioned.
In fact, winning the Super Bowl is given as much time as losing his connection with his players through his actions during the 1987 NFL players' strike and letting his celebrity grow out of control. It was particularly jarring to watch the late Dave Duerson speak about Ditka taking an endorsement from Bears offensive linemen. Ricky Williams spoke about Ditka's gamble on him during his tenure with the Saints, and how Ditka taught him about toughness at a young age.
In the years since his departure from the Bears (and short visit to New Orleans), Ditka's star has grown in Chicago. He is on ESPN, has his own restaurant, wine, barbecue sauce and tabasco sauce, and frequently makes appearances on radio shows, at golf outings and even in a few movies. The NFL Network checks in on the many, many brands of Ditka, but does not shortchange the time he spends now lobbying for NFL alumni who have fallen on hard times.
His outspokenness on behalf of retired players like the late John Mackey and Ickey Woods doesn't always win Ditka fans, but those players cannot be ignored with Ditka on their side. He uses his Hall of Fame star power not just to sell wine and excellent steaks, but to fight for others. While he lives in luxury, he works for the men who played next to him and can't afford their rent.
That complexity is what makes Ditka more than "Da Coach," and what makes him such an interesting subject. Kudos to the NFL Network for not sugarcoating the man who never learned the meaning of that particular word.
- NFL Network