Ditka's days with Bears numbered?

December 28, 1992|By Steve Campbell | Steve Campbell,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

IRVING, Texas -- His offense barely spent as much time on th field as the halftime Punt, Pass and Kick participants. His once-feared defense, which used to bludgeon opponents with Bear fists, hardly picks on anybody anymore. His beloved team hasn't been at this much of a loss since Gerald Ford was stubbing toes -- and assorted other body parts -- on White House furniture.

This is what it has come to for Mike Ditka.

Officially, the Chicago Bears' 27-14 defeat against the Dallas Cowboys yesterday afternoon was the end of the proud career (( of linebacker Mike Singletary, who presumably will head off into the sunset until the Hall of Fame beckons.

Officially, Ditka is the head coach of the team he took over in 1982 and took to the Super Bowl in 1985. Just as officially, Ditka is not yet the man the Bears are willing to entrust with rebuilding the team from 5-11 ruins.

Ditka's future is as much up for grabs as those gifts Will Furrer was distributing around Texas Stadium yesterday. Team president Mike McCaskey has not yet committed himself to bringing back Ditka, who has a 112-68 record at Chicago, for the 1993 season. Ditka insists "there are good things happening" with a team that had its losingest season since 1975, but he didn't sound like a coach who expects to get the chance to see the Bears through whatever is next -- good or bad.

started this way, came this way and went this way," Ditka said, gesturing with his hands to indicate the bottom, the top and the bottom again.

"That doesn't mean it can't go back up that way. And I believe that. I believe everything goes in cycles, and you've got to change that. You can't talk about them. You can't wish them to change. You've got to do the things that will change them.

"And this organization went from the top to the bottom and back to the top, and the reason they did is they made the right changes to do those things. That's a part of life. I accept that. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it's not the easiest thing, how you handle it. I really believe that it can be swung around. I really believe it can go uphill again."

Playing against a team they took to the wire in the playoffs last year, 17-13, the Bears were, in Ditka's words, "a little overmatched" yesterday. The Bears allowed nearly four times as many yards (354) as they gained (92). The Chicago offense committed four turnovers and kept the ball only 18:01.

A vintage Ditka response to such happenings would have been to light into anybody or anything that came in his path, but he was collected, calm, even cordial, after what could be his last game as Da Coach of the Da Team where he made a Hall of Fame mark as a player.

"Regardless of what happens, it has been a hell of a run," Ditka said. "I'm not sure where the line is to apologize, but wherever it is, I won't be in it. I have enjoyed it. I started in Chicago, came [to Dallas] and went back. I am an optimist. I believe in the best.

"I'm a Bear. You know I'm a Bear. Everyone knows I'm a Bear. Tom Landry knew I was a Bear when I was here [in Dallas as a player from 1969-72 and an assistant from 1973-81]."

To think, the Bears dusted a playoff-bound Dallas team, 44-0, at Texas Stadium during the 1985 Super Bowl run. The mighty have fallen so far, Ditka turned to a rookie quarterback with four snaps

TC worth of NFL experience to lead the Chicago offense against the No. 1 defense. Furrer, a fourth-round draft choice who threw more interceptions (44) than touchdown passes in college, never drove the Chicago offense past midfield under its own power.

The Bears' points came off a fumble (by backup running back Curvin Richards) returned for a touchdown and an interception (thrown by backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein) returned to the Dallas 6-yard line. By then, the Cowboys had a 27-0 lead. By then, the left-handed Furrer (9-for-23, 89 yards, three interceptions) had been rudely welcomed into the big time.

"Don't lose any sleep over Will Furrer," Ditka said. "Believe me, Will Furrer will be back and he will be back strong. And regardless of what happens, I think that kid has a great future in this league."

Ditka said he decided to start Furrer over veterans Jim Harbaugh and Peter Tom Willis because, "I thought Will would do an excellent job," and the coaching staff wanted to get a look at the least experienced of the Bears' quarterbacks.

Harbaugh, whom Ditka turned into a midseason whipping boy, could become a free agent this winter. Though Harbaugh said he wants to return to Chicago and would "absolutely" consider returning if there was no coaching change, he stopped short of giving Ditka a blanket endorsement.

Should Ditka return?

"As far as I'm concerned, Mike Ditka is the coach of this football team," Harbaugh said, choosing his words carefully. "I thank him for the opportunity he gave me to play in Chicago. It has been a tremendous opportunity. I hope the coaches and management will tell me one way or another if they want me back. If they want to go in another direction, I'll respect that."

Should any new direction come with a new director?

"I would hope that Mike Ditka does not leave the Bears," Singletary said. "He thought he brought a winning vision when he came here. I think that vision is still alive."

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