NFL icon Mike Ditka preaches a relatively straightforward message to Corporate America during a keynote today dubbed ACE. It stands for attitude, character and enthusiasm traits that are relevant both on and off the field.
Life is competition and I think thats why people relate to sports so well because you see a winner and a loser every day, says Ditka, who shares his life experience before audiences and relates it to the business world. I dont think its all about talent, he adds, citing such characteristics as discipline, sacrifice and perseverance.
Getting knocked down is one thing, says the Hall of Fame player who was the Chicago Bears first round draft pick in 1961, but you cant stay down.
When you combine athletics with academics you are going to get a … better rounded person I feel, he says.
Ditka is not itching to return to the NFL as a coach.
The money and the game has changed, the players, says Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end who as head coach led the Chicago Bears to a 46-10 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in 1986. Its hard to motivate. Its hard to get people to focus on common team goals. Its so much about the individual. The guy makes a play and yaks like a clown.
Or perhaps pulls out his cell phone in the end zone as did New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn last year.
I dont mind spiking the ball but I do mind the other stuff, Ditka says. Its demeaning to the game. The game deserves a lot more respect than these guys are giving it.
Ditkas name surfaced this summer as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate following reports that Illinois Republican Jack Ryan had allegedly brought his ex-wife to sex clubs. Ditka announced in July he would not run for office.
Asked why he did not campaign for office, Ditka says he did not want to subject his family to the scrutiny candidates face. He also says he made several commitments to radio and television this year.
Im not sure what difference I could make anymore, he says. I think the one thing I would have done, I would represent the people in this area and the state of Illinois the best I could and forget about the bipartisanship.
Most politicians dont represent the people, Ditka says. They represent their party and they represent themselves. Theres a lot of guys who go to Washington poor and come back rich. Im not sure I understand that.
Named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961, Ditka played 12 years in the league with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. He also played in five Pro Bowls and set an NFL record (it was later broken) for tight ends in 1964 by catching 75 passes.
Following a nine-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys as an offensive coach under the revered Tom Landry, Ditka as head coach led the Chicago Bears to six NFC Central titles, three appearances in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl victory.
Ditka credits his defense for crushing New England during Super Bowl XX, a game that marked the largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.
Our defense, he says, totally dominated their defense.
New England is a different team today. The Patriots led by quarterback Tom Brady have won two of the last three Super Bowls, and Ditka says the club has a chance to return to the biggest game in the sporting world.
They got a shot of going again this year, he says. They dont go after a lot of high-profile people. People they bring in are just people that can help them.
Ditka credits Brady for getting the job done in New England, but he feels Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has been designated the most responsibility in the NFL to run the offense.
I dont think anybody could run that offense but him, Ditka says. He is calling about 80 percent of the plays himself based on what he recognizes defensively. That is rare because offensive coordinators and head coaches usually call in the plays to the quarterbacks.
Ditka says former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon a winner of Super Bowl XX – had an aptitude for spotting blitzes. McMahon was the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to rush for a pair of touchdowns. Ditka describes former Bears running back Walter Payton as the greatest player Ive ever seen. Payton, who was known as Sweetness, died of cancer in 1999. He was 45. Payton rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 10 of 13 seasons and retired as the all-time leader in rushing.