Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Aliquippa, Beaver County
A Hall of Fame football player and celebrity coach of the Chicago Bears, "Iron Mike" Ditka grew up in Aliquippa.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame; All-American
Although born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, Mike Ditka was raised in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, approximately 20 miles from Pittsburgh, where he excelled in three sports; football, basketball, and baseball. After attending the University of Pittsburgh on a football scholarship, he earned All-American standing as a tight end his senior year. He later went on to play in the NFL, and eventually was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1988. He also was the head coach of the Chicago Bears, winning Super Bowl XX in 1986. Mike Ditka is one of only two coaches to win the Super Bowl as a player, coach, and assistant coach. He has written his autobiography titled, Ditka: An Autobiography, which depicts his magnificent career and drive to succeed. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois.
"Iron" Mike Ditka was born on October 18, 1939, in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, while being raised in the once booming Western Pennsylvania steel town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Mike and Charlotte Ditka: who had three children; Ashton, David, and Mary Ann. His father worked in the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill, which at the time, was the biggest steel mill in the world, extending seven miles along the banks of the Ohio River spewing flames out of the Bessemer converters that numbered the steel mill by the hundreds. His father was hard on him, emphasizing doing the right thing and building character. He grew up in low income housing projects in Aliquippa, a hard-working, extremely ethnically segregated town of steel workers, then paid very well. After seeing how hard his father had worked in the mills, "Iron" Mike pursued sports as a way to get out of the town, and achieve his future career goals.
At Aliquippa, he was a three sport athlete, participating in football, basketball, and baseball. Despite being relatively small as a kid and being told that he was too small and not fast enough to play football, "Iron" Mike ended up growing to 185 pounds as a junior in high school and succeeded at playing fullback and linebacker. He attributes most of his success to being constantly self-motivated and growing up in an area where high school football, still to this day, is taken with the utmost seriousness. After being recruited by Notre Dame, Penn State, and the University of Pittsburgh, he chose to play football at Pitt, where he eventually became an All-American Tight End as a senior in 1960.
Although most professional football players seek fame and fortune when signing NFL contracts, Mike Ditka was more concerned with seeing if he could compete at the NFL level. After being selected as the number 1 overall pick in both the AFL draft by the Houston Oilers and in the NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, Mike chose the Bears. He chose the Bears because he knew they were a bunch of tough, hard-nosed players. "Iron" Mike established himself early in the NFL as a 6'3", 230 pound tight end, while exhibiting a tough, physical presence as a blocker, receiver, and runner. He became one of the most feared and respected players in the NFL with his ability to block, catch, break away from some of the fastest defenders in the league, and break tackles with a devastating straight-arm move which he had perfected. After playing 12 seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears (1961-1966), Philadelphia Eagles (1967-1968), and then traded to the Dallas Cowboys (1968-1972), he not only helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl VI, but became the first tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on July 30, 1988.
After retiring, he started his coaching career as an assistant for the Dallas Cowboys from 1973-1981 where he helped win the Super Bowl in 1974. He then took on the role of head coach for the Chicago Bears from 1982-1993. During his tenure at Chicago, "Iron" Mike won his first Super Bowl as a head coach in 1986. After getting out of coaching for a few years, he took on the responsibility of becoming the head coach for the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 2000. When Mike Ditka's career in the NFL finally came to an end, he became the only person to win the Super Bowl as a player, head coach, and assistant coach, which has just recently been achieved by current New England Patriots head football coach, Bill Belichick.
Mike Ditka is currently still involved with the NFL as a commentator for NFL Prime Time on ESPN. He owns a restaurant in Chicago called, "Mike Ditka's Chicago," where he frequently greets customers emphasizing hospitality and good food. He is involved with many charity organizations, such as The Mike Ditka Foundation, which raises money for Misericordia, a program for the developmentally disabled run by the Sisters of Mercy in Chicago, and the "Say No to Drugs" campaign. His favorite hobby is golf, which he plays extremely often. He even manages to come back to his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, every year in late June to play host to the Mike Ditka Classic, which gives money and scholarships to charities and high school students, paying homage to the traditional, blue collar steel town, which he feels contributed to his great success. One of "Iron" Mike's mottos, quoted in Tough Times is, "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do."
Ditka: An Autobiography. Chicago: Bonus Books, Inc., 1986.