Admit it -- when you read this headline, you thought to yourself, "Wait a minute -- didn't the Chicago Bears already retire Mike Ditka's number at some point in time?" Well, no. But the organization will right that obvious wrong when the Bears take on the Dallas Cowboys in a Monday Night Football game on Dec. 9. Thus, nobody will ever wear #89 for the Bears again.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Ditka said via a team statement. “It’s something that I didn’t anticipate or expect, but it’s a great honor. When you think of all the great Bears players who have had their jerseys retired, I can’t say that there’s any greater honor. I’m very humbled by it and very thankful that [team chairman] George [McCaskey] made the decision to go ahead and do that because it’s really great."
Ditka was selected in the first round by the Bears in the 1961 NFL draft out of Pittsburgh and went on to define the franchise's tough-minded mentality as much as anyone who's ever been a part of it. He caught 316 passes for 4,503 yards and 34 touchdowns in six years for the Bears at a time when tight ends were generally afterthoughts. But contract negotiations with George Halas went south when Ditka famously said that Halas "throws nickels around like manhole covers," and he was traded to Philadelphia. His playing career ended in Dallas in 1972, and Tom Landry immediately hired him as an assistant coach. Halas brought Ditka back into the fold by hiring him as the Bears' head coach in 1982. And in 1985, Ditka's Bears won Super Bowl XX with one of the greatest defenses of all time. He became the first person in the modern NFL to win an NFL championship (1963) and a Super Bowl with the same team as a player and as a coach.
“Mike Ditka embodies the spirit of everything the Bears are about,” McCaskey said. “He’s an icon. The last time we won the championship Mike Ditka was our coach, and the last time we won before that Mike Ditka was a player. The organization knew it was the right thing to do. He revolutionized the tight end position as a player and grabbed an entire franchise by the throat as a head coach and willed it to victory in the Super Bowl. We have more retired numbers than any other team in the NFL. After this, we do not intend to retire any more numbers but we thought if there is going to be a last one, there is no more appropriate one than 89.”
In 1988, Ditka became the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s the consummation of a career," Ditka said of the Bears honor. "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.”
The Bears have also retired the numbers of 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). McCaskey's statement would seem to intimate that anyone looking for the Bears to retire the number of linebacker Brian Urlacher, who retired from the NFL on Wednesday, may have to wait a while.
And in honor of Ditka, we proudly present his greatest fans:
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In his 13-year career, Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher established himself as one of the greatest NFL players of the new millennium. And when he officially retired on Wednesday, it got people thinking about his legacy. A Super Bowl appearance, 180 regular-season starts, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 1,052 solo tackles, eight Pro Bowls, four First-Team All-Pro nominations, and his status as one of the few players to rack up the AP's Defensive Rookie of the Year (2000) and Defensive Player of the Year (2005) awards all will likely lead Urlacher to the Pro Football Hall of Fame sooner than later.
That said -- and this happens to every great player -- there are those moments one would rather forget. When Urlacher called into the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday morning, Patrick went through many of Urlacher's great moments, and then got him to remember one of the goofier plays of the 2006 season -- which may have been Urlacher's best.
When Patrick asked Urlacher, "Who was the quarterback or running back you didn't get, and you really wanted to?" it didn't take Urlacher long to remember one particularly embarrassing play against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. It was Week 12 of the 2006 season, and Brady -- who will hardly go down as the most mobile quarterback of all time -- managed to elude Urlacher in the open field on a fourth-quarter scramble. As you can see in the video above, it was an atypical play for several reasons.
"Brady always kicked our butts -- I don't think we ever beat [New England] when Tom Brady was the starting quarterback," Urlacher remembered. "He juked me out of my shoes in 2006."
As Patrick said, "Every white guy who couldn't move loved that play, because it was Brady who was doing it."
"Man, he really got me, and he's one of the best of all time," Urlacher concluded. "There were just some guys I had a hard time with."
Not too many, but Urlacher also remembered his first experience against Minnesota Vikings superstar back Adrian Peterson, which did not go well at all for the veteran linebacker. It was Week 5 of the 2007 season, and Urlacher said something that got up Peterson's nose. He soon found out that it was a bad place to be.
"We had decent games against Adrian, but the one game I wish I could take back was the first game of his rookie year. He rushed for, I think, 220 yards (224 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries), and ran a kickoff back 70 yards. At the beginning of the game, I said something ... I don't remember what I said, but I think I pissed him off. I said something about being a rookie, and he had a good game. 'Rookie this, rookie that,' and that was a bad move."
And that's one of the things we like best about Brian Urlacher -- one of the things that has always made him a rare individual. No matter how great he was at his peak (and he was spectacular), he could always be honest about the foibles that even the greatest must endure.
Today's been and will yet be a busy sports night, so with not much going on with the Bears, we're giving you a night to talk about it all!
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