Someone once joked to me the Chicago celebrity-worship hierarchy went roughly like this (in descending order): 5) Sinatra; 4) Daley; 3) Jordan; 2) The Pope and 1) Ditka.
The legendary Chicago Bears coach is as beloved as he is ubiquitous here in the Windy City, where the 74-year-old sports icon and ESPN radio host hawks all sorts of national and local brands—raking in an estimated $2-$3 million annually, Crain's Chicago Business reported last month.
On Sunday, Da Coach hawked Bruce Rauner.
Ditka unofficially endorsed the Illinois Republican governor candidate in a 30-second spot that ran twice during the Bears season opener and for which Rauner's campaign reportedly shelled out $90,000.
"You know what I like about you Bruce. You're tough. You attack the special interests. Bam! Hit them right in the mouth," says Ditka, hamming it up while Rauner plays the straight man.
The ad was filmed at Ditka's Chicago steakhouse and the entrepreneurial, self-promoting, check-collecting Bears legend did not accept any money for making the cameo, Rauner spokesperson Mike Schrimpf told the Trib.
It's not surprising that Ditka would warm to Rauner and support the Chicago venture capitalist's pro-business, reform-touting brand of conservatism.
Despite his vaunted status in Chicago, which is heavily Democratic, Ditka is a card-carrying Republican and has dubbed himself an "ultra-ultra-ultra conservative." He has dabbled in Illinois' political arena, 10 years ago considering a run for U.S. Senate after Jack Ryan bowed out of the race amid an embarrassing, career-crashing sex scandal. Ditka opted against a play for public office, citing a conflict with his business endeavors. If he had thrown his helmet into the ring, Ditka could have gone head-to-head with future President Barack Obama, who easily trounced conservative media pundit Alan Keyes for the senator post in 2004.
In an uncharacteristic move six years later, Ditka appeared in an ad endorsing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in his 2010 election battle against Republican Bill Brady, saying of the embattled Quinn: "I think he's good people."
Several weeks ago, the famously unfiltered hothead made headlines for dismissing the controversy over the Washington Redskins name as "so stupid it's appalling."
He said: "We're going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Proudskin?"
(Ditka's most vocal defender? Sarah Palin.)
If you thought Rauner had a big mouth, he's got nothing on Da Coach.