You would expect uber-tough former Chicago Bears tight end and head coach Mike Ditka to shrug off most things that would take lesser men right out. If Ditka in his prime were attacked by an actual bear (cue the Swerkski Superfans), we're pretty sure he'd find a way out.
But on Friday, the 73-year-old Ditka was presented with something far more serious when he suffered a minor stroke while playing cards at a suburban Chicago country club. Ditka, who suffered a heart attack in 1988 but has had no recent health issues before Friday, told Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune that he noticed his hands weren't working correctly, and he was having trouble speaking. He was hospitalized and diagnosed.
"I feel good right now and it's not a big deal," Ditka told Pompei on Friday evening. ESPN NFL Senior Producer Seth Markman tweeted on Friday that Ditka would not be appearing on the network's "Sunday NFL Countdown" program.
Ditka, who is one of just two players to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and head coach (Tom Flores is the other) is now an ESPN analyst, a restaurant owner, and an avid amateur golfer.
When he suffered his heart attack in 1988, the then-Bears head coach returned to work just eight days later, and to the sidelines just three days after that.
"I don't know what I experienced," he said at the time, via Pompei. "I think I almost experienced embarrassment. It kind of was embarrassing that it happened to me. I mean, how could this ever happen to me? That's the way I felt in the beginning, and then it didn't matter. I mean it was so bad at a certain point that I knew that we're just mortals. I mean, we're here for a while and then we're gone. It can happen to anybody at any time. It was a very humbling feeling after that, believe me."
Selected in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft out of Pitt by the Chicago Bears of the NFL and the Houston Oilers of the American Football League, Ditka chose the Bears and became as synonymous with that tough city as anyone in the franchise's long history. He had a falling out with Bears owner George Halas over money in the late 1960s, and won his Super Bowls as a player and assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
Eventually, Ditka and Halas worked it all out, and Ditka became the Bears' head coach in 1982. Three seasons later, the 15-1 Bears won Super Bowl XX with one of the NFL's all-time great defenses. Ditka later coached for the New Orleans Saints.
Everyone at Shutdown Corner wishes "Da Coach" a full and fast recovery.