Mike Ditka, media star at 74: On national TV stage since 1993; Will he leave ESPN after this season?

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on Mike Ditka. With the Bears set to finally retire his No. 89 tonight, I talk to “Da Coach” about his long career as a football analyst for three different networks; still being in demand from advertisers; and the possibility he might leave ESPN after this season.

You also can access the column via my Twitter feed at Sherman_Report.

From the column:

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Mike Ditka never fell out of view.

With the Bears retiring his No. 89 Monday night, it is worth noting that the totality of Ditka’s football career also includes a remarkable run as a network analyst. When he signed on with NBC in 1993 after being fired as coach of the Bears, he hardly envisioned he still would be talking about football on the national stage 20 years later.

“It is surprising,” Ditka said. “To be able to be in the broadcast industry, analyze games, talk football and then have people pay you to do it. … Well, that’s pretty good.”

With the exception of his three years as head coach of the Saints (1997-99), Ditka has been showcased on NBC, CBS, and ESPN since 2004. Locally, he also does a weekly show at 5 p.m. Thursdays on WMVP-AM 1000.

Indeed, at 74, Ditka is the oldest analyst working any of the NFL studio shows for the major networks. That’s no small feat in a business in which TV executives seem to change their mind every 15 minutes.

Even though he hasn’t coached the Bears in more than two decades, there’s still not a player on the current team, and few NFL players for that matter, who can match his marketing power. Ditka continues to be featured in several national and local ads. Agent Steve Mandell says he “turns down far more opportunities than he accepts.”

“I thought people wanted these young guys,” Ditka said. “Maybe they want the old guys too.”

Age, though, isn’t a friend, and it has him thinking of slowing down. He throws off some strong hints that the weekly travel grind to Bristol, Conn., to do ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” might force him to call it quits after the season.

“I’m not getting any younger,” Ditka said.

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I will have my entire Q/A with Ditka later today.

 

 

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