It takes a lot to knock Mike Ditka sideways, but he was reeling as he tried to process the news that Bears legend Steve McMichael had been diagnosed with ALS and is in severe decline.
Ditka coached McMichael from 1982 to ’92 — nearly his entire Bears career — and thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I don’t want to say that you have favorites, but I would have to say that Steve McMichael was always one of my favorites,” Ditka told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday. “There was no quit in the guy. He gave you what he had. Whether it was enough or not, it didn’t matter. You were going to get his best effort. And that’s what I love about him.”
The Bears signed McMichael in free agency in 1981 and hired Ditka the next year. In ’84, they kicked off an incredible run of 62-17 over five seasons and won Super Bowl XX.
While that ’85 team was loaded with stars and future Hall of Famers, McMichael stood out for his grit.
“The way Steve conducted himself and played for the Bears in those years is a great example to all the young players,” Ditka said. “He was a hard worker. He was a no-nonsense guy. He didn’t take any [garbage] from anybody, including his teammates. You had to love him. You had to love his spirit and the way he went about playing the game. He was special.
“He didn’t have all the talent that Richard [Dent] and Dan [Hampton] and some of the other guys had, but he gave it everything he had all the time, and you’ve gotta love that.”
Ditka added that McMichael, “wasn’t one of the big names, but he was one of the best football players we had.”
Ditka saw McMichael last year, and it was clear McMichael was having health problems. He was diagnosed with ALS in January and is paralyzed from the shoulders down. His wife, Misty, is his caretaker.