Ditka the coach, like Ditka the player, fits perfectly into NFL's wacky world

November 13, 1992|By Eric Noland | Eric Noland,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- It has become fashionable to call for the head of Mike Ditka.

In the NFL, that is not that unusual for coaches whose teams slump to 4-5 and, thus, become "embattled."

What makes the case of the Chicago Bears coach so unusual is that some people apparently have soured on Mike Ditka precisely for being Mike Ditka.

An odd dichotomy comes into play in the NFL.

When you play the sport, people expect you to be successful, and in order to be successful you must be passionate, aggressive, fierce, short-fused, relentless and combative.

If you're all of those, you'll probably have a long career -- say, 12 years or so -- even if you bang heads in the trenches as a tight end. Why, you might even make it into the Hall of Fame.

Once finished playing and achieving all of this, teams will undoubtedly seek you out to coach, where you'll be expected to be even-keel, passive, cool-headed, patient, magnanimous and sedate.

In other words, none of the attributes that contributed to your success as a player.

Ditka coaches like he played. Always has. Today, he has license to ask what all the fuss is about.

In Chicago, the fuss has centered around antics. As in: People are just getting tired of Ditka's antics.

OK, let's examine some of them.

* Ruthlessly dressed down Jim Harbaugh on the sideline after the quarterback called an ill-fated audible in a game at Minnesota. Supposedly shattered Harbaugh's psyche for the remainder of the game and cost the Bears a win.

Harbaugh played at Michigan, but obviously too late. Had he been around when Woody Hayes was at Ohio State, he probably would have gotten punched in the face after running out of bounds along the Ohio State sideline.

And if a quarterback can maintain his poise and composure after being popped in the jaw by the opposing coach, he'll be more than prepared to shake off a few salty words from his boss in the NFL.

Harbaugh should have been born sooner. Case closed.

* On Ditka's radio show, when callers criticized him, he referred to them as jerkos.

Stop reading. Put this down. Go to your radio and tune in any sports station. Listen for 10 minutes. Then come back.

We'll wait. . . .

You're back? OK. Now admit it, does any other characterization better capture the prototype caller to a sports talk show?

End of debate. Ditka's off the hook.

* Called members of the media S--s and then, when a reporter took offense and walked out, called a halt not only to that news conference but to all future Monday news conferences.

It should probably be noted that the offended soul works for a paper in Peoria. He ought to try plying his trade in Los Angeles, where guys like Reggie Jackson and Kirk Gibson would never have stooped to using so mild an expletive.

Around here, coaches sometimes refer to reporters (expletives deleted here) as vultures. There's a third-string center on the Raiders who prefers rats. (What is this football fixation on the animal kingdom? Is it because the evolutionary process . . . oh, never mind.)

The point is, in big-city society you're liable to hear much worse from total strangers. When you're trying to make the difficult transition from the westbound 134 to the northbound 101, for example.

In the sportswriting business, there's no substitute for a thick skin. Besides, NFL coaches live by a standard rule: If you can't say anything nice about someone in a news conference, cancel the news conference.

* Disowned Ed O'Bradovich, whose daughter is married to Ditka's son, because he ventured the opinion that Ditka had gotten too big for his pleated britches and forgotten his roots.

Whew. Now there's something novel: in-laws in conflict.

In the movie version, you get some priceless moments between Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.

* Challenged another caller to his radio show to a fight when said caller called him a baby.

L See previous reference to those who call radio sports shows.

On second thought, it might be great theater to see a baby going three rounds with a jerko.

* Departed from the day-to-day ho-humdrum of football to endorse political candidates, and said, "If the Clinton-Gore team was ever elected, it would be the biggest step backward this country has taken in its 200 years of existence."

OK, obviously the man has no expertise in this area and is clearly not up on his history. He has forgotten Jimmy Carter.

Ditka should have stuck to what he knows: football, the NFL, quarterbacks.

He should have endorsed Jack Kemp.

They're big on antics these days in Chicago. Also on adjectives.

In a recent Ditka-blast in the Chicago Sun-Times, the author used the following in reference to the Bears coach: boorish, pathetic, silly, cuckoo's-nest, ornery, absurd, senseless, immature.

The response here: So?

This is, after all, the game of football.

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