Mike Ditka had four teeth loosened in an auto accident just a few days before a game in 1969. His dentist recommended that he not play until they were tightened.
Ditka disagreed and instructed his advisor to "pull them." The stunned dentist made a special mouth guard and "Iron Mike" played the next Sunday.
Born in 1939, Ditka was an All-American at the University of Pittsburgh. As a collegian, he was a two-way performer -- defensively at end or middle linebacker, and offensively as a tight end. He was also the team's punter.
The Chicago Bears drafted him in the first round in 1961. In his rookie season, Ditka caught 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns.
These were impressive numbers for any receiver, but for a tight end they were unprecedented. Ditka was tough, a devastating blocker, and the first tight end to challenge defenses as a downfield receiver.
During his 12 seasons with the Bears (1961-66), Philadelphia Eagles (1967 and 1968), and Dallas Cowboys (1969-72), Ditka recorded 427 receptions for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns. The prototype for his position, Ditka was the first tight end elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The superb play of this five-time Pro Bowl selection often proved to be the difference between winning and losing. This was never more evident than during the Bears' 1963 championship season. In a romp over the Los Angeles Rams, he caught four touchdown passes. A few weeks later, his crushing block freed teammate Ron Bull to score the game's only touchdown in a 10-3 win over Baltimore.
Against the Steelers, he turned a short pass into a 63-yard gain to set up a game-tying field goal. In the championship game, he took a third-down 12-yard pass to the 1-yard line. The Bears scored on the next play and went on to win their first title in 17 years. The Bears' next championship victory came 23 years later in Super Bowl XX. Mike Ditka was the head coach.
To learn more about football greats, see:
- Great Football Players
- Great Offensive Football Players
- Great Defensive Football Players
- Great Football Coaches