ELKHART, Ind. – After leading the Chicago Bears to the 1985 Super Bowl championship, Coach Mike Ditka became something of a superhero.
Former Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka signs an autograph for Zach Anderson, 9, as Zach’s dad John Anderson, left, of National Sales Co. in Elkhart, and EverGreen Chairman Kelly Rose look on in the EverGreen tent during Open House Week.
So it was only fitting that “Iron Mike” dropped out of the sky in a red helicopter Wednesday afternoon to make a special Open House Week appearance at the EverGreen, Lifestyle, Skyline display.
Shortly after Ditka was introduced by his friend and EverGreen Chairman Kelly Rose, former Chicago Bears great running back Gayle Sayers strolled into the tent and was introduced to another big round of applause. Ditka and Sayers signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans for about an hour before Ditka addressed the crowd on topics ranging from his football career to his conservative political and business philosophies.
“I’m surprised Kelly Rose has been so successful after playing gin with him,” Ditka joked.
Former Chicago Bears running back Gayle Sayers signs an autograph Wednesday during a visit to Open House. Click to enlarge.
Ditka went on to discuss the influences two coaches had on his life. Bears Coach George Halas brought Ditka into the league as the fifth overall pick in the 1961 draft. Ditka said he had a base salary of $12,000 his first year with a $6,000 bonus.
After being named Rookie of the Year, Halas offered him a “raise” to $14,000.
“I told him, ‘I made $18,000 last year,’ so he reached in his desk and pulled out a contract for $18,000 and I signed it,” Ditka said. “I never did get a raise.”
Ditka was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967 and then became part of the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 where he met another great influence in his life – Coach Tom Landry.
He later became an assistant coach on Landry’s staff and was encouraged by Landry to take the Bears’ head coaching position when it was offered to him by Halas following the 1981 season.
Halas died in 1983 before he could enjoy the success Ditka brought with the 1985 Super Bowl title.
“All you’re given in life is an opportunity,” Ditka said. “What you do with it is up to you.”
Foot traffic at the various manufacturers’ exhibits appeared to be slightly lighter Wednesday than it had been a day earlier, though the weather continued to be perfect for the event and sales reps were still regularly busy through the day.
Open House Week wraps up today.
To see more photos from Ditka’s visit to Open House, click here to view our album.