If you’re a Bears fan you don’t even need to read this column, the title sums it up. “Iron” Mike Ditka is by far the best tight end the Bears have ever drafted. He doesn’t have the gaudiest stats of all time, but you can’t expect that since the game has changed so much from his era. Still, Ditka paved the way for tight ends in today’s league.
Mike Ditka played his college ball at Pittsburg and in 1961 he was drafted in the first round by Chicago. He paid the Bears back immediately, catching 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1961, earning him Rookie of the Year honors. Ditka averaged 76.9 yards per game that year, a stat that’s still impressive in today’s pass-happy league.
Ditka led Chicago in receiving his first three years in the league, and in 1963 helped the Bears defeat the New York Giants to win the NFL Championship. He also racked up five straight Pro Bowl appearances from 1961-65. In addition to that, he was named First Team All Pro by the Associated Press in 1963 and 64.
After his tenure with the Bears, Ditka played for Philadelphia for two years but didn’t have as much success. He ended his playing career in Dallas on a better note, catching a touchdown in Super Bowl VI and earning his second title.
In his career, Mike Ditka caught 427 passes for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns. With Chicago, he ranks fourth all time with 4,503 yards, and fifth in receptions with 316 and touchdown catches with 34. Ditka also averaged 13.6 yards per reception over his career, a testament to his strength to be able to fight off tacklers and drag them if needed.
Ditka is one of 14 players in Bears history to have his number retired, and is part of 27 Hall of Famers to wear the jersey. In 1988, Mike Ditka became the first tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, cementing his place as an icon at the position. He is also the only player in the modern era to win a championship with the same team as a player (1963) and coach (1985).
After Ditka’s playing career ended he joined the Cowboys staff in 1973 and stayed until 1982 when he became the head coach in Chicago. As head coach, he molded a team in his image. His Bears teams were known for their toughness, and in 1985 he led them to a 15-1 regular season record and a dominating 46-10 win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He also won six division titles and made it to three NFC title games in 11 years. He was Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1988.
The Bears have the most Hall of Fame players in NFL history. They also have the most retired numbers in the league. It’s hard to say definitively who the best Chicago Bear of all-time is. It’s not hard to say who their best tight end is.