Eric Wulf, executive director and CEO of the ICA:
Our keynote speaker of course this year is Mike Ditka. Mike Ditka was born in Carnegie, PA, and starred at the University of Pittsburgh before being chosen in the first round of the NFL draft by George Hallas. He went on to be the NFL rookie of the year, and then to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys and of course the Chicago Bears where he still holds several receiving records. He has won three Super Bowls, both as a coach and a player — an assistant coach with Dallas, a player with Dallas and of course as head coach of the Chicago Bears.

He now is busy in various pursuits, as you know. He is a restaurateur, you see him frequently on ESPN as an NFL commentator, he is a commercial spokesperson, and also finds a lot of time to have fun doing what he loves also, which is golf. But we’re very excited to have him here with us. He’s going to share with us stories that he has learned through his remarkable journey, and without further ado, please welcome, NFL Hall of Famer, Mike Ditka.


Mike Ditka:
Eric, I want to thank you for reading that introduction just like I wrote it, I appreciate it. I heard your words. Pretty special. The carwash business, I know a little bit about it, I get mine washed about three days a week. Why do you want to have a clean car? It makes you feel good. Actually, I smoke cigars in mine; it makes it smell better too. But you people are the real people of the world. You’re the backbone of America. You’re what makes it go.

I’ll tell you a little about myself, because you have to understand who I am. I’m just a guy going through life. I’m very fortunate, I’ve been put in some unique situations, and I’ve had a lot of help. I’ll tell you this off-hand. I’m not politically correct, I don’t try to be. I won’t say something to impress you. I’m pretty conservative in my views, although I won’t bore you with my political views. I love America. I love this country a lot. I’m not necessarily a Patriots fan, but I am a patriot.

I’m just going to go back and tell you a few things. I came, and Eric mentioned a little bit, I was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1961. I was the fifth player picked in the first round. Now I don’t know if that impresses you or doesn’t. Anyways, I went in to see Mr. Hallas, I didn’t know very much about the Chicago Bears. I grew up in Pittsburgh. We sat down at his desk and he said, “I’m going to offer you a contract, and the contract is going to be for $12,000 a year. But I’m gonna give you a $6,000 signing bonus.” Twelve and six, okay, remember that. So I played that rookie year for $12,000. The $6,000 was spent on a car, believe me. But I played that for $12,000.

So, at the end of the year … and fortunately I had a great year. I made rookie of the year. I made All-Pro, I caught a lot of passes, so everything worked out good. So I go in to see Mr. Hallas again. Now, you gotta understand, there were no agents in those days. I had nobody representing me. It was me, 22 years old, going against the guy that started the National Football League. Chances are we knew who was going to win.

So I go in, and he sits me down, and he says, “Kid, you know, you had a great year.” He called everybody kid. “Kid, you had a great year. You did this, you did that,” he said. “But you know, you missed curfew three times.” And he’s right, I did. And every time I missed it, he fined me 500 bucks. Now you figure it out when you’re making $12,000 and you’re fined $500 three times, you know, that’s a lot of money. And believe me, it wasn’t worth it when I missed the curfew either. He said, “But I’m going to give you a raise.” And this is what he told me, “I’m going to pay you $14,000 this year.”

I’m thinking, wait a second here, that doesn’t work out. Twelve and six is 18; I’m getting a cut in salary. So I said, “Coach, that doesn’t make any sense, I made 18 last year.” He said, “No, you made 12.” I said, “No, I made 18.” I said, “I’ll be damned if I sign for a penny less than 18.” As soon as I said that, he pulled out a contract for $18,000 and I signed it. He was going to get me for $14,000 if he could, but he wasn’t paying more than $18,000.

I’ve been very fortunate, you know, I played in a great era of football. I played in the 1960s, and I played against a team up north of Chicago called the Green Bay Packers. And the Packers in the late 1950s were not very good. Kind of one of the laughing stocks of the National Football League. They hired a coach, in I believe 1959. His name was Vince Lombardi. And he went to the Packers, and he didn’t change people as much as he changed attitudes. He made people understand that there was light at the end of the tunnel, but they had to do things a certain way, the Lombardi way. You know, there’s an old saying that practice makes perfect. It’s not true. Perfect practice makes perfect. If you’re practicing all wrong — I don’t care how much you do it ­­— it ain’t going to get much better…

(To read Mike Ditka’s full speech, please check in June.)