Ditka, prestige live on after coaching days


Three things Mike Ditka did on his summer vacation:


(‘‘Yeah, well, my handicap is pretty low. … Well, about a 3. But I can’t play to it! … I don’t care what people heard! It’s a fact! All they got to do is play with me).


(‘‘A lot. … Football? What else? … I’ve got the same setup I had when I was coaching. I’ve got to stay in tune with what’s going on in the league to be able to let other people know. … Otherwise, what you thought you know, you might know any more’‘).


(‘‘I’m not mad at anybody. I had a great run. Football was my whole life, pretty much, for the last 32 years. But not anymore. At this point, I really don’t miss it. … Of course, opening day might go by and I’ll realize I miss the heck out of it. Or that first week will go by and I’ll start wondering what the heck I’ve done!’‘).

Some people never change, which is why it’s hard to get too much of Ditka. He is still a wonderful bundle of contradictions, friction and comedy and plain talk sparking off him in every direction.

It will be a couple more weeks before a button-downed Mike pops up on your screen every Sunday behind a desk as the centerpiece of NBC’s revamped ‘‘NFL Live.’‘ But no one should have any trouble recognizing him. He’ll be the ornery one. The guy who looks like he’s going through withdrawal.

His official title will be ‘‘studio analyst,’‘ but Ditka figures that means he can do or say pretty much whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Which is pretty much what he’s always done: been Mike. And NBC is gambling a large chunk of money that will be enough to sack former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw and ‘‘The NFL Today’‘ in the scramble for ratings.

In a recent telephone interview from his suburban Chicago home, the former Bears coach sounded tanned, rested and ready, as excitable and as opinionated as ever, often reversing field in the span of a few sentences.

When he formally took the job last April, Ditka told reporters that a sabbatical of still-to-be-determined length from the sidelines might actually make him see the game better. Then again, he might just have been busting chops: ‘‘Maybe when you’re sitting on your butt,’‘ Ditka said at the time, ‘‘your mind’s working better.’‘

Still, he said nothing that’s happened in the nearly four months since has caused him to change that opinion.

‘‘The main things I wanted was to cut down on travel and not be speaking to coaches. I didn’t want to be close to the games. I wanted to see what they’re like from a distance. I wanted to stay away for at least a year and see how that felt.

‘‘Maybe I’ll stay away for the rest of my life,’‘ he said. ‘‘Maybe I won’t. But that was my thinking for this year.’‘

Two things viewers will find out about Ditka quick:

_ He is still very loyal to the fraternity. ‘‘I’m not a rumor guy, a gossip guy. But if other people bring something up, sure, we’ll discuss it.

‘‘I can be very informative. … But it’s not like there’s going to be a scoop every minute … just because there won’t be! That stuff’s overrated, anyway.

‘‘Everybody thinks they have one all the time and I just don’t see it that way. I mean, how many scoops can there be?’‘

_ One reason he is loyal has to do with the fact that he, like several other coaches-cum-studio analysts at NBC, would not be averse to returning to his former profession. Then again, maybe not.

‘‘I really don’t know what the future holds and there’s no use in predicting. But see, people don’t understand that about me. What’s beyond my control I don’t worry about.

‘‘What I do worry about is people judging me with the thought that I’m just trying to get back into the game. If the opportunity comes up to do it my way, I’d probably take a shot …

‘‘Of course,’‘ he added a moment later, ‘‘it wouldn’t bother me if I never had the chance to do it again.’‘