NFC North: Mike Ditka

Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

We’re chronicling the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve looked at Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XX during a 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots.

Make sure to vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977 Site: Soldier Field

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Bears' history?

  •  
    36%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 46,201)

Elusiveness, explosion, speed, and violence, Walter Payton showed it all in this 18-yard run, which is likely the greatest of a storied career that produced hundreds of breathtaking moments.

The play certainly put Hall of Famer Jim Brown on notice, and definitely should be included in the discussion of the single greatest plays in NFL history.

“I don’t know the game, but I can tell you what moment,” said Brown, who was watching Payton on television for the first time. “I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He must have twisted, knocked three or four guys over, spun around, accelerated. I said, ‘Oh my goodness [laughing], what kind of animal is this? What kind of guy is this?’ All those moves, and the strength and tenacity; that was it, I didn’t have to see anymore. I knew this was a great runner.”

Taking a handoff on a sweep right, Payton spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier, cut back left, made three Chiefs miss, in addition to trucking two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke six tackles. When he took the handoff, the Chiefs led 17-0. Surely the momentum from such an eye-popping run helped to spark Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback victory.

Payton rushed for three second-half TDs to lead the rally, and the victory marked the club’s first of six in a row to end the season as the Bears earned their first trip to the postseason since winning the NFL championship in 1963.

Nearly seven years later, Payton would break Brown’s record to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In classic Payton fashion, he downplayed the achievement, declaring Brown still the king of all NFL runners.

“I don’t believe I ever broke Jim Brown’s record,” he’d say later. “I think it’s still standing. I don’t think the record books need to be rewritten. I didn’t do it in the amount of time that Jim Brown did. If you can’t do it in nine years and eight games, then you didn’t break his record. I had more games and I played longer, so I didn’t break it.”

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A brief skirmish broke out at Tuesday's organized team activity during a team drill between members of the Chicago Bears' starting offense and defense. Involved in the short-lived fracas was defensive end Lamarr Houston, right tackle Jordan Mills, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Jared Allen.

Teammates quickly intervened to end the fight, but not before Bennett slammed his own helmet to the ground in frustration.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoChicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had some outstanding catches during Tuesday's organized team activities in Lake Forest, Illinois.
"We are just competing,” Houston said afterward. "This is a competitive sport. That's the atmosphere Coach Trestman wants. We are competing every day to get better. Sometimes people get heated, but all we are doing is competing out there. It's exciting out there. It's a competitive atmosphere. We're having fun in practice.

"That's football. We just go back to the next play and keep working. It's nothing personal. Marty is a good guy. He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to go in there with him after this. Everything is all good.”

Bennett later tweeted: "I go hard every [expletive] day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of [expletive] in me.”

Here are several other observations from Tuesday's voluntary session:

• Former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente split reps with Eben Britton at left guard with starter Matt Slauson sidelined due to a shoulder injury.

• Middle linebacker D.J. Williams worked out in front of the media for the first time in the offseason. Williams was absent from last Tuesday's open OTA, but did participate in practices later in the week that were closed to the media.

Charles Tillman's absence on Tuesday opened the door for veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden to receive a look on the first team at cornerback in the base defense and in the nickel package. Hayden missed the entire 2013 regular season after tearing his hamstring in training camp. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller still worked with the starters in nickel when Tim Jennings bumped inside to cover the slot.

• Hall of Famer Mike Ditka watched Tuesday's workout from the sidelines in Lake Forest. Ditka addressed the team last year following a practice at Halas Hall, and had his number retired by the Bears during halftime of the team's Monday night Dec. 9 game versus the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.

• Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his strong hands when he went up and snagged a red-zone pass over Jennings.

• Safeties Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen had blanket coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep Jay Cutler ball down the middle of the field. The pass fell incomplete.

• Rookie David Fales and second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson received extra reps in team drills as No. 2 QB Jordan Palmer took a backseat to allow the young quarterbacks to get extended looks.
WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford showed up to the golf course, began to tie his shoes and smiled when he heard the news.

Mike Ditka was in attendance, as well, at the Charlie Sanders "Have a Heart, Save a Life" golf tournament that Stafford and many of the Detroit Lions were playing in Monday.

Stafford
Stafford
“That’s awesome,” Stafford said. “I know him a little bit. I’m going to try and beat him, like we did last year as a team.”

The Stafford-Ditka connection is a somewhat weird one. One of the more bizarre criticisms of Stafford over the past year has been his decision to sometimes wear his hat backward during interviews and other moments.

For some reason, Ditka has pounced on this, openly questioning Stafford’s leadership and correlating it to his choice of how he wears his hat.

“I think he’s above that. I think he’s better than that,” Ditka told the Detroit Free Press last month. “I think if you’re the commander-in-chief -- (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur didn't wear his hat backwards. He wore it the way it's supposed to be worn.

“That’s what I would like in my quarterback. And if I was coaching him, I would have told him that: ‘I’m sorry, you put it on straight. You’re not driving a car, if you want to put (it) on backwards (then), that’s fine.'"

In terms of leadership, how Stafford wears his hat should not matter at all. That said, Stafford has worn his hat forward more in interviews this offseason and wore it forward at the golf course Monday.

To Stafford, who said he is a 7 handicap at his home golf course, Atlanta Country Club, all this about his hat is kind of silly. And it's an issue he hasn't broached with Ditka. He just wanted to beat him on the golf course again.

“It’s fine,” Stafford said. “It’s really a non-issue to me.”

As it should be to both Stafford and most everyone else.

Five things we learned vs. Cowboys

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
2:39
AM ET
CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys:

1. Trestman recovered: There was legitimate concern about whether the Bears would be capable of rebounding after their demoralizing Week 13 loss to the Vikings in the Metrodome. Coach Marc Trestman and his team answered that question on the Bears’ first offensive drive of the game, when they marched 78 yards on 12 plays and ate up 7:27 on the clock to tie the game at 7-7. The Bears never looked back on offense, partly because of the creative and efficient manner in which Trestman called plays. Trestman was in the zone Monday night. Almost everything he called was executed to perfection. He deserves credit for hanging in there after a tough week during which he was put under the microscope. The head coach overcame the adversity and now has the Bears right back in the NFC North race at 7-6.

2. McCown refuses to have a bad game: Jay Cutler may be medically cleared to start next week against the Cleveland Browns, but Josh McCown has the city buzzing after his latest performance. He went 27-of-36 for 348 passing yards, threw four touchdowns, ran for another, and registered a passer rating of 141.9. In seven appearances this year (five starts), McCown is 147-of-220 for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.8 quarterback rating. Of course, McCown had the benefit of playing against a hapless Dallas defense on Monday night. He also was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked off. But when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. And McCown is in the zone. Nobody can dispute that.

3. Cutler hysteria expected to peak: The natural reaction is to question why the Bears, with the playoffs still a real possibility, would risk benching McCown in favor of Cutler on Sunday in Cleveland. It’s fair to wonder, but keep in mind the Bears have been consistent all year when it comes to Cutler. When healthy, he is the team’s starting quarterback. If the Bears make the switch now, there is no going back. Are you ready for that? Why not see how Cutler responds to the pressure of starting the final three games? Worst-case scenario: If he Cutler struggles, McCown will certainly be ready to enter a game at a moment’s notice. And it Cutler bombs down the stretch, the Bears will have a better idea of whether he is the guy moving forward. But Cutler also could succeed and guide the Bears to the postseason. The Bears already know what McCown can do in the offense at this stage of the season. But Cutler remains kind of a mystery. The only way to know for certain is to let him play.

4. Defense kept the Bears in it: All the Bears can ask for from the defense at this stage of the season is to keep them in ballgames. Mission accomplished Monday night. Dallas still ran all over the Bears for 198 yards on 28 carries, but the Cowboys converted just 50 percent of their third-down chances (5-of-10) and went 1-of-2 on fourth down. Those aren’t great numbers for any defense, but for the Bears, it’s an improvement. In contrast, the Bears were 8-of-11 on third downs (73 percent).The Bears also sacked Tony Romo twice and limited Dallas to 144 total passing yards.

5. Ditka ceremony a success: The tribute at halftime to retire Mike Ditka's No. 89 went off without a hitch. From the red carpet that stretched from the Bears’ sideline to the middle of the field -- where a small stage was assembled that contained the 1963 NFL championship trophy, the Super Bowl XX Vince Lombardi trophy and Ditka’s bronze Hall of Fame bust -- to the classy and well-produced video montages that rolled on the JumboTron featuring Ditka’s former teammates and players, the organization should be proud of the way it celebrated one of the game’s all-time greats. Ditka delivered a heartfelt and articulate speech that culminated with a loud, “Go Bears,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Team chairman George McCaskey, who enthusiastically introduced Ditka, should be applauded for the manner in which he has reconnected with the team’s alumni base since assuming his current position two years ago.
Apparently, ESPN analyst and former Bears coach Mike Ditka isn’t expecting a long stay in the playoffs from any NFC North teams.

Speaking on ESPN's “Mike & Mike” on Monday morning, Ditka lit into every team in the division and levied harsh criticism at Chicago’s struggling defense.

“It’s not a good division right now,” Ditka said. “Detroit, that’s amazing to me. And the Bears' defense ... they have no concept of defense. It’s terrible. It’s embarrassing to watch them play in the secondary. It’s embarrassing to watch their tackling, their concept of defense, their setting the edge on the strong side, of forcing a play, of containing a play on the back side. They don’t have all of those elements. So in saying that, you’ll never mix them up with Doomsday or the Fearsome Foursome or anything like that.”

The Bears surrendered 406 yards in Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams, including 258 yards on the ground. Having allowed 4,136 yards through the first 11 games, the Bears are on pace to smash the franchise mark for yards given up in a season (5,729).

But the Bears have also played several games without starters, most notably franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton, linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams, and cornerback Charles Tillman. Melton, Williams and Tillman are out for the remainder of the regular season, as are nickel corner Kelvin Hayden and Melton’s primary backup, Nate Collins.

The Bears have also been without defensive tackle Stephen Paea and defensive end Shea McClellin for stretches.

In sizing up the rest of the division, Ditka said for “Green Bay, it’s gut check [time],” adding that Minnesota is going to "beat some teams [in the division] at the end of the year. I’ll guarantee they’re not that bad of a football team. Their defense is too good; they’ve got a great running game. They do some things well enough to beat some of these teams because none of these teams is that good. The Bears aren’t that good. Detroit evidently is not that good. Green Bay isn’t that good without [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers. So it’s going to be up for grabs all the way down.”
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka offered his take Thursday on the $765 million settlement reached between the NFL and more than 4,500 former players.

“Concussions are part of the game,” Ditka said. “I know a lot of the old players need a lot of help, and it’s quite a settlement from what I understand. I think people have hid behind this too long. It’s time it’s out in the open. It’s out in the open now, so we’ll see what happens.”

The former players alleged that the NFL mistreated concussions by hiding the risks. With the lawsuit now settled, the allegations against the league won’t be made public in court.

According to the court document, following the order from Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody outlining the settlement, “the settlement does not represent, and cannot be considered an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football. Nor is it an acknowledgement by the plaintiffs of any deficiency in their case. Instead, it represents a decision by both sides to compromise their claims and defenses, and to devote their resources to benefit retired players and their families, rather than litigate these cases.”

Alicia Duerson, the ex-wife of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest in February 2011, told ESPN’s Kelly Naqi she still isn’t quite sure of the implications the settlement carries. Duerson’s family donated his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, where experts found the former safety’s brain tissue revealed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“It’s so new,” Alicia Duerson said. “We haven’t had a chance to talk to the attorneys, so I don’t know what it means for me and my kids. I’ll need a couple of days to digest it.”
We're Black and Blue All Over:

For much of the offseason and early summer, I assumed that if the Detroit Lions' competition at strongside linebacker was close, it would go to one of the second-year players -- Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead -- who were among those in contention. Apparently the competition was not close.

Veteran Ashlee Palmer, who has spent his career as a special-teams ace, has worked exclusively with the first team for the past two weeks, points out Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn't named Palmer his Week 1 starter yet, but said: "I don't know that race is over yet, but he has certainly taken the lead."

Palmer has had a good camp by all accounts, but the competition must also be viewed in part as a disappointment after the Lions drafted Lewis and Whitehead last summer knowing that both of their 2012 outside linebackers -- DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant -- were in the final year of their contracts. Levy re-signed in the offseason, but neither Lewis nor Whitehead has been able to slip into Durant's role. (We discussed the Lions' late-round draft issues Tuesday.)

Continuing around the NFC North:

Ditka: There's no bigger Bears fan than me

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
5:52
PM ET
After returning to Halas Hall for the first time in years Tuesday, Mike Ditka admitted his relationship with the franchise might have been strained but he said he hasn't wavered in his support of the Chicago Bears.

"There was a perception for a long time -- it wasn't perpetrated by me -- that I was not a Bears fan. Nobody in the world has more of a right to be a Bears fan more than me," Ditka said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "I don't care if I was fired or traded, I was drafted by Mr. [George] Halas, I played for him, the last two championships [the Bears] won [in 1963 and 1985] I was a player and a coach on them. Is that the best thing in the world? No, but I'm just saying nobody has more of a right to be a fan than me.

"I think it got out of whack there for about 10 years in a row there where there was some animosity on somebody's part. I can honestly say it wasn't my part. No one likes to be fired. That's a fact. Did I deserve to be fired? Hell yes I did. We weren't doing the job. It's simple. It's not a complicated thing. I never fretted about that because I had my day in the sun. I knew as a coach that we were going to win. And I knew we were going to win because we had the right kind of players on that football team to win."

Ditka's 11-year run as coach of the Bears ended after the 1992 season when the Bears fired him following a 5-11 season. That ended a Bears career that began as a Hall of Fame tight end and eventually led to him coaching the Bears to their only Super Bowl win during the 1985 season.

The Bears recently announced that Ditka's No. 89 would be the last jersey to be retired in the foreseeable future. The Bears have retired the most numbers of any team in the NFL.

The Bears will retire Ditka's number during a ceremony at a Dec. 9 game against one of Ditka's former teams, the Dallas Cowboys, at Soldier Field on "Monday Night Football."

"It's a great honor. It's an unbelievable honor. To me it wasn't necessary because you can't change the fact that I played the game for the Bears," said Ditka, who is now an ESPN analyst. "I know I left and I played for the Eagles and I played for the Cowboys but I played the game for the Bears. And I played for the guy [Halas] who started the National Football League. The joy I have out of my career with the Bears and how much it meant to me ... retiring the number is a tremendous honor, but it's not significant in what I think of my achievements with the Bears. All of it was too good, and even the bad days were too good."

Bears embrace history with Ditka at practice

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
5:00
PM ET
For the first time in years, Mike Ditka was patrolling the practice field at Halas Hall on Tuesday.

What was his first impression?

"It was hard standing up for two hours when I'm used to sitting on a (golf) cart," Ditka said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000.

The legendary Bears coach and Hall of Fame player was a guest of coach Marc Trestman, who called Ditka soon after being hired by the Bears.

"I thought that was a great place to start, somebody who knew as much about the Bears and the tradition of the Bears as he does," Trestman said. "It turned out to be dinner with our wives and I called him last week with the idea that we left it, was to bring him by and see Halas Hall and the new facility and spend some time with our players and say hello to them. He graciously agreed to do that and we certainly appreciate the fact that he came out here today to be with us."

(Read full post)

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Forbes Magazine recently used its 2012 valuations of NFL teams to rank them among the world's 50 most valuable sports franchises. All four NFC North teams made the cut, and it's worth noting our lowest-valued team relative to Monday's post on player payroll.

The Chicago Bears ($1.161 billion) ranked No. 16, the Green Bay Packers ($1.119 billion) were No. 18, the Minnesota Vikings ($975 million) were No. 35 and the Detroit Lions ($855 million) were No. 43. The Lions, according to the magazine, carry substantial debt load because of their contribution toward constructing Ford Field.

As we discussed Monday, the Lions have the NFL's highest payroll -- the sum of cash they will pay their players in 2013 -- at the moment. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson will receive $56 million alone. We all know that salary-cap rules played a part in ballooning those contract values, but in the end, one of the NFL's lowest-valued teams is paying out the most cash to its players this season. There's a note in there somewhere.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

There has been much written and said about the relatively poor teams that Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders played for. What today's fans might not realize, as Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com points out, is that Sanders nevertheless had six playoff appearances in his 10-year career.

Compare that to current Lions superstar Calvin Johnson, who has had only one winning season in six years. As bad as Sanders might have had it, Johnson has had it worse so far.

Richardson: "Johnson deserves better than this. He has been the face of a woeful franchise since entering the NFL, yet, does not complain. Johnson could demand a trade, call out the front office, criticize his coaches, and it would be hard to question his frustrations."

Consider it one of many incentives for the Lions to reverse their backstep from last season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Friday, I wondered if a second offseason arrest for tight end Evan Rodriguez would end his tenure with the Chicago Bears. Based on a statement released by the team Sunday afternoon, it appears that no immediate action is planned and that Rodriguez will remain on the roster.

Rodriguez was arrested for driving under the influence, speeding and improper lane change early Friday morning. In the statement, Rodriguez apologized for the incident and pledged to "make positive changes in my life so that this doesn't happen again." That portion of the statement implies the Bears have given him another chance.

In March, Rodriguez was arrested for resisting an officer without violence and disorderly intoxication in Miami Beach, Fla. Prosecutors ultimately dropped those charges. Rodriguez was drafted last year as a tight end but mostly played fullback in the Bears' offense. The assumption is that he is on the shortest leash imaginable with the franchise, and the NFL will by rule review both arrests for possible discipline.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The arrival of a new quarterback always generates offseason buzz, even if it's to a team such as the Detroit Lions -- whose starter and backup appear firmly in place. Just the same, the Lions claimed former Cleveland Browns quarterback Thaddeus Lewis on waivers this week, according to Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News among others, and he will at least give them an intriguing arm to evaluate this spring.

Matthew Stafford is the Lions' starter and veteran Shaun Hill would appear set as his backup, but No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore's job could be available. Also, Hill is recovering from minor foot surgery and has been in a walking boot this spring. If nothing else, Lewis gives the Lions a live arm during organized team activities while Hill completes his recovery.

Lewis, a second-year player out of Duke, started the Browns' season finale last season, completing 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions are looking for progress from linebacker Tahir Whitehead, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Retired left tackle Jeff Backus will work with the team's linemen as a part-time coaching intern, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji on his contract situation, via USA Today: "Obviously, the Packers are a great organization and I'm sure they'll do right by me. I'll leave it at that."
  • Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers on experimenting with defensive end Mike Neal at linebacker, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "The more he can do, the more versatile it's going to make us, make it harder for the offense to identify some of the things we're doing. He's been more of primarily an inside rusher for us, and we liked the way he rushed inside for us last year. We're just trying to expand his role. If he can be both an inside and an outside rusher, then that's an asset to us. … Mike's a guy that has a combination of strength, size, speed, quickness, power. We're trying to get him a little more work rushing outside than inside because we know what he can do inside. He'll be involved in different packages in different places."
  • Packers tight end Andrew Quarless apparently is recovered from a devastating knee injury and is ready to resume his role, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly hasn't joined the Packers yet this offseason, but the team remains supportive of his path. Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
  • Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was the only missing player from the first day of organized team activities (OTAs), according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Allen traditionally works out on his own in the offseason.
  • Mike Wobschall of vikings.com offers highlights of the first OTA practice.
  • The NFC North is wide open behind the Packers, write Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. Dickerson: "So the real question is: Have the Lions passed up the Bears in the offseason? That's tough to say for sure with the regular season still over three months away. Let's start with what we know -- both teams desperately need to make the playoffs in 2013."
  • Patrick Rishe of Forbes.com wonders if the Bears' decision to retire Mike Ditka's No. 89 was based on public relations.

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.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Thursday, we broached the topic of whether the Chicago Bears would retire the number of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. As it turns out, the team is dealing with a backlog on that issue.

Almost a half-century after playing his final game with the team, Mike Ditka will have his No. 89 retired this season, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. (The Bears have since confirmed the report.) As Biggs explains, Ditka has had his ups and downs with the franchise after both his playing career and coaching tenure the latter of which brought the Bears a Super Bowl championship in 1985.

It's the first such gesture by the Bears since 1994.

Modern-day fans might remember Ditka as a coach, but I wonder how many know that he was the No. 5 overall pick of the 1961 draft and went to five Pro Bowls in his first six seasons. He was a two-time All-Pro, still ranks first on the Bears' all-time receiving list for tight ends and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

Congratulations to Da Coach, who is now an ESPN analyst.

Let's continue our morning tour around the NFC North:
  • Former Bears coach Lovie Smith on Urlacher, via ESPNChicago.com: "[H]is physical play is just a small part of what made Brian great. People knew he called our defense, but his intelligence was never given its just due. His understanding of the game is among the best who has ever played it."
  • Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon on playing for Bears coach Marc Trestman, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The big thing for Jay Cutler is just realizing that you have an unbelievable opportunity here to work with a guy who has really had success with quarterbacks. You have to ask yourself, 'Why has he had this success?'"
  • Detroit Lions cornerback Chris Greenwood, who missed his rookie year because of an injury, is ready for his second chance. More from Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Lions special-teams ace Ashlee Palmer is hoping for an expanded role on defense this season, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Technique development is the first step for Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Former Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan has plenty to keep him busy in retirement, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Nick Perry’s rookie season wasn’t a total injury washout, but the Green Bay Packers still can’t say he’s successfully made the transition from a college defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL."
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen knows that 2013 could be his final year with the team. Allen, via Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune: "I pray about it. I talk to my wife. And we'll end up going where the good Lord takes us. But I don’t know where that path is headed."
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has an interesting profile of new Vikings punter Jeff Locke, who is an intellect in his own right.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider