As the NFL Draft approaches, Grizzly Detail is counting down the Top 30 draft picks in Chicago Bears history. In order to qualify for this list, a player must have worn a Bears uniform for at least five seasons (sorry Rosevelt Colvin and Wilber Marshall), and players who were selected in lower rounds of the draft will have an advantage in this countdown.
For today’s selection, we go with a guy you may be familiar with, both as a tight end for the Bears and as one of the most legendary coaches in team history. We are talking of course about Da Coach Mike Ditka.
Ditka, who was the fifth overall pick in the 1961 NFL Draft, played for six seasons with the Bears as a tight end, snagging 316 catches for 4503 yards and 34 touchdowns during those campaigns. While with the Bears, Ditka redefined the tight end position in the NFL, transforming it from one that focused on blocking to one that could also be utilized by a team’s offense to run passing plays. Ditka had great hands and a gritty disposition, and was one of the best offensive players of his generation.
If there was any doubt that Ditka was going to contribute immediately out of college, it was quickly erased during his rookie season with the Bears. In just 14 games, Ditka racked up 1076 yards receiving, scored 12 touchdowns, and snagged 56 passes to star for a suddenly potent offense.
He followed that up with 904 yards and 58 receptions in the following season, and even though his receiving yard total took a dip in 1963, the Bears still won the NFL Championship anyway. With nearly 800 yards receiving and eight touchdowns that year, Ditka was key to the title run for the Bears, and “Papa Bear” George Halas clearly relished having such a versatile weapon on the offense.
Unfortunately for Ditka, his time with the Bears didn’t last much longer. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967, and even though he ended up winning a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, he never again achieved the legendary figures that he did during his first few seasons with the Bears.
We originally were going to knock Ditka down the list a bit because of his short tenure with the Bears, but when we considered the impact he had not only on the team, but on the position of tight end, during his Bears’ career, we had no choice but to elevate him up to number 11. He still got dinged a bit because of how high of a pick he was, but at the end of the day, Ditka meant more to Chicago than what his numbers alone would indicate. He was a new breed of tight end, and one that many players since have tried to emulate.