CHICAGO (CBS) — The Bears will retire Mike Ditka’s No. 89 at halftime of their Dec. 9 Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The team announced their intentions early Friday morning, signaling a mending of the fences between the franchise and the man who coached the Bears to their only Super Bowl title.
“Mike Ditka embodies the spirit of everything the Bears are about,” Chairman George H. 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.”
Ditka has had a contentious relationship with the McCaskeys, as it was former CEO Michael McCaskey who fired him in 1992. But No. 89 will nonetheless become the 14th number retired by the Bears, the most in the NFL.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Ditka said. “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 George [McCaskey] made the decision to go ahead and do that because it’s really great.”
Ditka is credited with revolutionizing the tight end position from largely a blocking role to a receiving role, while he played for the Bears from 1961 to 1966. He was the first tight end to be voted into the Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 1988.
Ditka was Rookie of the Year in 1961, when he caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was a five-time Pro Bowl player, and two-time All Pro in six seasons with the Bears.
While with the Bears, he helped lead the team to the 1963 NFL championship, beating the Giants 14-10. Ditka also led the Bears to their historic Super Bowl run as head coach, after the 1985 Bears finished the season 15-1 with a defense largely viewed as the best in NFL history.
Ditka is the only person in the modern era to win an NFL championship as a player and coach for the same team.
“It’s the consummation of a career,” Ditka said. “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.”
Ditka will become the 14th Bears player to have his number retired, joining 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).