Mike Ditka: '88 heart attack made me 'vulnerable'

Mike Ditka: '88 heart attack made me 'vulnerable'

December 27, 2013, 12:30 am
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Mark Strotman

When a 49-year-old Mike Ditka, the man of iron and king of Chicago, suffered a minor heart attack after a daily workout with his Bears team, it took the head coach by surprise.

"It scares the heck out of you because you become vulnerable," Ditka told CSN Chicago. "I didn't have any reason -- nothing bothered me. I had hip surgery, that was the worst thing to happen to me. But nothing like that, so I became vulnerable.

"We all think we're iron men of steel, but when it happens to you it really takes a lot out of you. A lot of people who had what I had wouldn't be here today."

But not everyone is Da Coach.

Ditka, after being listed in serious condition at the Lake Forest Intensive Care Unit, was expected to miss an extended period of time. But after just one week as an advisor on the team's sideline he was back in full force, coaching the Bears on his way to the 1988 NFL playoffs and eventual Fog Bowl win.

But in that moment, as news spread across the Windy City, Chicago stopped.

"This town shut down when he had a heart attack," Bruce Wolf said. "A football coach has a heart attack and the city shuts down, and it was that important to the city of Chicago. He was just so darn intimidating, and it was all about the tough, gritty Chicago image."

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Added Mike Singletary: "I just remember the team, the town, the city, felt, 'Wait a minute, what's going on here?'"

Ditka said he knew he'd return to the team as quick as he could because it's who he was: head coach of the Chicago Bears.

"Those were my guys, my team," Ditka said. "I never looked at it any other way. I looked at it as my team and that was why I was the general, that's why I was hired to do that."

Ditka's quick recovery and return to the team may also have been because of the patience of his wife, Diana.

Joked cornerback Mike Richardson: "His wife pretty much relayed a message to (the team) that reassured us that (Ditka) was going to come back...because if he stayed at home he was going to have another heart attack."