Nobody represents the heart and soul of Chicago quite like “Da Coach.”
Mike Ditka, the former NFL Hall of Fame Player and coach of the ’85 Bears, is bringing a taste of the Windy City to Mesa with an appearance at this weekend’s Chicago Fest at Mesa Riverview, adjacent to the new Chicago Cubs Spring Training Complex.
Ditka earned a fearsome reputation on the gridiron and is earning equal respect as a restaurateur. His restaurant, Ditka's, was recently noted by USA Today as one of the top 10 celebrity restaurants in the country and will serve up its signature corned beef at the Mesa event.
GetOut caught up with Ditka to discuss beef, brats, beer and naturally, Da Bears.
Q: Chicago has always had this intense relationship with great food, music and tradition. Why is that?
MD: Chicago is a working man’s city, and they like their beef and brats and drinking beer. That’s just what Chicagoans do. The food and music is reflective of the immigrants who came to Chicago at the turn of the century. When they came to this country, they brought their food, music and traditions with them. It’s as simple as that.
Q: Chicago Fest is taking place at Mesa Riverview near the new Cubs spring training complex. I’m curious if you’re a baseball fan, particularly the Cubs?
MD: I am a big baseball fan. I like every sport and watch every sport. I definitely watch the Cubs. I grew up a Cardinals fan because I liked Stan Musial, but now I pull for the Cubs. I became a fan of theirs when I played for the Bears and lived and coached in Chicago. It’s always been a good organization, and they try to do the right things.
Q: I first became aware of your restaurant/steakhouse, Ditka’s, in Chicago through ‘The Jamie Kennedy Experiment,’ in which you pranked a diehard Bears fan on national television. Was that segment as fun to tape as it was to watch?
MD: That was a great time, and those were fun people to work with. The segment turned out hilarious, and I had fun with it, no question.
Q: Ditka’s recently opened in the Phoenix-metro area inside the new Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino in Laveen. How alike is running a football team and a restaurant?
MD: People always ask me why some restaurants are successful and why others are not. It all comes down to the people. Everybody has an idea of what they want to do and what their concept is, and so do I. But you have to have good people in place — the management, the cook, the hostess, the waiters, the bartenders — to do the things you want to do. It’s the same concept with football. You have to have the right personnel. We also have a great product, and we understand who we are. And our dishes are pretty daggone good, too.
Q: Are you surprised by the continuing popularity of the ’85 Bears team, which you coached to a championship title almost 30 years ago?
MD: Part of the reason why they remain popular is the fact that the Bears haven’t won a championship since that time. I played on the ’63 squad and coached the ’85 team, and those are the only two championships the team has produced, so we tend to remember and praise the winners. I think if the city wins again, it might change.
But that ’85 team was special in a lot of ways. There were a lot of good football players on that team who were real characters and personalities. As a coach, I never reigned them in. I allowed them to be who they were as long as they kept winning. They were in the newspapers every day, and so the public was able to identify with them — Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, William Perry, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent. We had a lot of characters who had character. This was a team who really played for each other.
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