Mike Ditka's final season as a player for the Chicago Bears was in 1966. His last season as their coach was 1992. So why did it take 47 years after his departure as a player, and 21 years after his final season as the coach, to retire the number of one of the most recognizable figures in team history?
A small part of the explanation could be the sheer size and breadth of the Bears' history. Before retiring Ditka's No. 89, a move the team announced Friday, the Bears already had the most retired numbers in the NFL (Ditka's is the team's 14th). I chuckled Friday morning when punter Adam Podlesh tweeted: "BREAKING: The NFL finally gives Bears the nod to use fractions and decimal points on jerseys after the last whole number is retired #iwantpi"
If you retired every deserving number in Bears history, there wouldn't be many left over for the current team.
But I think we all know that more than numbers were in play here. Ditka alluded to it during a morning appearance on ESPN Radio, noting the efforts of Bears chairman George McCaskey to reach out after succeeding his brother, Michael, in 2011. Michael McCaskey, of course, was running the Bears when Ditka was fired as coach.
"I never left" the Bears organization, Ditka said, but added: "I think what happened is they made a decision based on what they wanted to do. They had a right to make that decision. It hurts. It always hurts when there is a separation or divorce.
"But when George took over running the Bears and he called me, him and [team president] Ted Phillips and I met with him. I think [the meeting] was so cordial. George is a special guy. He probably had a little bit more vision than somebody else. But that didn't matter. That's not important to me. Whatever it is, it is. … I am very, very honored. That's the bottom line."
The ceremony will take place Dec. 9 at Soldier Field, when the Bears will host a "Monday Night Football" game (on ESPN!) against the Dallas Cowboys. It should be a great night.
Note: The video of Ditka's radio appearance is at the top of this post. Here is the link to the audio version if you prefer that.