Top Picks: Mike Ditka

Let's talk about one of the men most synonymous with Chicago football: Mike Ditka, who turns 80 on October 18.

Raised in Aliquippa, Pa., Ditka began his NFL career as a tight end for the Chicago Bears from 1961-1966. Before retiring as a player in 1972, he did stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Bears owner George Halas, who'd originally drafted Ditka as a player, asked him to leave his job as special teams coach for Dallas and come back to Chicago as Bears head coach in 1982. In 1986, he led the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX, and in 1988 he became the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here are my recommendations for the best Ditka books, plus one documentary.

Ditka, An Autobiography reads a lot like an interview or radio transcript. Written with Don Pierson in 1986, the book describes Ditka's life up to the Super Bowl XX victory. He includes a section of personal photos as well as player profiles for Chicago legends Jim McMahon, William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Walter Payton.   

Investigative sports reporter Armen Keteyian draws on over 200 interviews, including one with Ditka's father, Mike Sr., to craft DITKA: Monster of the Midway, a biography of Ditka as a coach, player and businessman. This book has in-depth reporting on Ditka's 1991 coaching season—his second-to-last with the Bears franchise.

In Life, First You Kick Ass is a conversational memoir full of lesser-known stories and reflections from Ditka's time as Bears head coach. This book was written by Ditka with Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander, who lived next door to the Bears' practice facility, Halas Hall, during the 1985 season.

Chicago: America's Best Sports Town includes sections on the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, White Sox and Chicago sports history—plus a foreword by Ditka. This interesting read features classic sports stories, player biographies and rankings of some of the top moments in Chicago sports history.

I cannot recommend ESPN Films 30 for 30 enough. "The '85 Bears" features interviews with Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Steve McMichael, among others. The documentary talks about the strengths of the 1985 Bears and the season leading up to Super Bowl XX. Significant energy is spent examining the at-times-strained relationship between Ditka and Ryan. 

What's your favorite memory of Da Coach? How do you feel about our team this year? Let me know in the comments.   

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