It takes a special kind of athlete not just to win the game but to view the sport and the entire industry as brimming with career-altering opportunities. Winning athletes come and go, and some fade over time. The rare few aspire to something greater, take charge of their dreams, and leap far from the playing field to the small screen or beyond. Of these, fewer yet can claim their fame to both worlds while enjoying the immortalization that follows in the recurring skits found on Saturday Night Live. Coach Mike Ditka accomplished this feat with a cigar in hand the whole way through.
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. His grit and attitude 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 did cigars; he knew if they were a fit right out of the gate.
Work Ethic is a Top Priority
Excellence in a job well done is everything. And that’s precisely what Coach Mike Ditka demanded of his team. He understood that winning went beyond the individual and depended on the effort of all 53 players working together. Work ethic more than mattered; it was a top priority. Excellence was getting out on the field and playing a good game. It meant putting your best foot forward. It was also about striking the other guy faster and far more often than they hit you. This same work ethic is what Ditka’s father instilled in him as a child growing up in Pennsylvania’s mining country. His father summed it up succinctly. “You get out of life what you put into it,” he said. In other words, your effort and discipline are the keys to your success.
Mike Ditka’s Leap to NFL and Cigars
The work ethic and discipline instilled in him landed Ditka 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. Still, finances left him constrained to the cheapest, mass-produced cigars like White Owl, Tiparrilo, and Phillies. Over time, 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 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 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 to 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 should the Bears win the Super Bowl again.
Photo credit: Heilemann (Interior Staff), T. (2008). [Assignment: 48-DPA-02_01_02_08_K_NFL_Peo] Activities at the National Football League’s [pre-Super Bowl XLII interactive theme park,] The NFL Experience, in Glendale, Arizona, where Department of the Interior and other federal agency staff [joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka and other football luminaries for outdoor recreation promotions] [48-DPA-02_01_02_08_K_NFL_Peo_DOI_9540.JPG]. National Archives Catalog. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7916970