Mike Ditka rides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival… (Rodger Mallison / Fort Worth…)
Mike Ditka returned to the Chicago Bears' practice field at Halas Hall on Tuesday, a sight that brought back memories of the team's glory days back in the 1980s.
And that's exactly why first-year Coach Marc Trestman invited the former Bears player and coach to practice, providing a link from the team's triumphant past to the new era that started when Trestman replaced Lovie Smith during the off-season.
"I thought that was a great place to start, somebody who knew as much about the Bears and the tradition of the Bears as he does," Trestman said.
The man who coached the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX had plenty of inspirational words for the current players.
“I told them that they have the best opportunity in the world. They’re playing in the greatest city for the greatest organization that was founded by Mr. Halas."
Some might be surprised to hear such words from Ditka, who was fired by the Bears after an 11-year run following the 1992 season.
“It’s time to dispel the notion that I’m not a Bears fan," Ditka said. "Yeah, I was fired by the Bears, but that’s life. There has never been a time I was not a Bears fan. I have a right to be a Bears fan as much as anybody. I played on a championship team and I coached a championship team.”
The Hall of Famer brought his old-school attitude back with him.
"I told them if you respect your teammates, they'll respect you," Ditka said. "If you respect the coaches, they will respect you. Most of all you've got to respect the game. Don't act like a clown. Don't be a jerk out there, don't be a showoff. If you respect the fans, maybe they will respect you. That's a big maybe though."
According to Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, Ditka's message came through loud and clear.
"He talked about the commitment to the teammates, things like that and it comes down to the players, not just the coaches," Bennett said. "The coaches can coach, but when we're on the field, we need to make the commitment to one another, making things happen for each other."
Safety Chris Conte added: “All you had seen was the ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits and stuff. I had never really heard him speak before in person. So it was cool to get to meet him. He really wanted us to take away from football the relationships and not think about the money. Really, what’s important are the people in the locker room.”
Speaking of memories from the Bears' glory days, so glad Conte brought up those classic "SNL" skits ...
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