Mike Ditka: Da Coach Loves Cigars
Some winning athletes become coaches and fade away. Others make the leap from the playing field to the small screen. Very few are lucky enough to have done both and become immortalized as a recurring skit on Saturday Night Live. Mike Ditka has accomplished this with cigar and steely-eyed stare the whole way.
Mike Ditka on the Field
As a Pro-Bowl, hall of fame tight end, Mike Ditka is a throwback to the days when football was what famed coach Vince Lombardi called “a collision sport.” He set a receiving record for tight ends that lasted nearly twenty years. The grit and attitude he displayed on the field provided a natural transition to the sidelines as a coach, eventually winning the Super Bowl with the 1986 Chicago Bears. He evaluated players the way he evaluated cigars; he knew if they were a fit right out of the gate.
Work Ethic is Everything
As a coach, Mike Ditka demanded excellence from his team. He understood the team won or lost based on 53 players, and not each individual. Work ethic mattered. It was about hitting the other guy harder and more often than they hit you. This work ethic was instilled upon him as a young child in Pennsylvania mining country. His father summed up life succinctly, “You get out of life what you put into it.” In short, effort and discipline were the keys to success.
Mike Ditka’s Leap to NFL and Cigars
The work ethic and discipline instilled in him landed Ditka as an all-American football player for the University of Pittsburgh. He was drafted in the first round by Chicago. He hadn’t given much thought to the NFL. Instead, he focused on a potential career as a dentist. Yet, life has a funny way of changing plans. Mike Ditka celebrated his signing with the Chicago Bears with his first cigar, a White Owl.
Mike Ditka’s Love Affair With Cigars is Born
In those early days, Ditka loved smoking, but finances left him constrained to the cheapest, mass-produced cigars like White Owl, Tiparrilo, and Phillies. Over time, as his palate became more refined and his financial situation improved. So, he was able to upgrade his cigar preferences. He later became the head coach of the Bears after several Super Bowl-winning seasons as a receiver coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Yet, Ditka was rarely seen without his trademark Churchill cigar.
Mike Ditka and Trophy Cigars
As the Bears head coach, he celebrated winning the Super Bowl by handing out prized trophy cigars from his own collection and bottles of champagne in the locker room. He loved the camaraderie of smoking with his players. His love affair with cigars continued well after retiring from football. Many of his former players credit their love of cigars from being introduced to them through Coach Ditka.
The Winning Tradition Continues
After several forays into restaurants and cigar lounges, Mike Ditka partnered with Camacho Cigars to launch a line of sticks as an homage. True to form, Ditka took part in the process. He helped select the various blends, producing a robust, full-bodied smoke worthy of his persona. Although a heart attack two years ago ended his smoking days, Ditka swore he would light a victory cigar if the Bears win the Super Bowl again.
Photo credit: Chris Bergin