There might never be a more iconic figure in Bears history than Mike Ditka, and on a blistery December evening, the McCaskey family made sure there will never be another No. 89 to don the blue and orange.
In a day that was declared “Ditka Day” by Illinois governor Pat Quinn, the Bears retired Ditka’s jersey number in a halftime ceremony at Soldier Field.
Ditka’s No. 89 jersey became the 14th number — the highest number in the NFL — to be retired in team history. The Bears were reluctant for several years to give in and retire Ditka’s jersey but finally did so 21 years after he left the organization.
“It’s such a great honor,” Ditka said. “I’m really honored that the Bears have considered doing this. It’s kind of the icing on the cake, the final candle, whatever you want to call it. It’s been a hell of a run, it really has been.”
The 74-year-old Ditka stepped onto the podium at midfield and watched a video montage that included messages and wishes from his former players and teammates. Before leaving the field, he had a message for the city of Chicago.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, and go Bears!” Ditka told the Soldier Field faithful.
Some people remember Ditka as the iconic coach of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears and his trademark mustache, but many people forget he was a crucial figure in revolutionizing the tight end position in the NFL. He was a five-time Pro Bowler with the Bears and went on to two win a Super Bowl in his final year as a player with the Dallas Cowboys. Ditka would win another Super Bowl as an assistant coach with Dallas before being named head coach of the Bears in 1982.
Even after leaving the Bears, the city of Chicago has never forgotten about their beloved Ditka. His look is often imitated around Halloween in the city. And it’s a motto that he lives by that might explain why people tend to emulate him.
“I’m just having fun with it,” Ditka said. “I can tell you honestly, probably the best thing that can happen is when you stop taking yourself so damn serious. And I quit. I don’t take myself serious.”
Ditka has stayed in the spotlight since leaving the organization. He's always picking the Bears to win their matchup as an NFL analyst on ESPN, he's a frequent guest on radio stations in Chicago, he has multiple steakhouses in the Chicagoland area and more than likely you will see him appear on a commercial each week — he even hinted at a hearing-aid commercial in the near future. Ditka has no plans to leave television anytime soon nor the spotlight and will continue to cheer on his beloved Bears for as long he lives.
"I read something a long time ago that said, 'Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift that’s why they call it the present.' I’m going to stick to running the present for awhile, try to figure out what the heck is going on."