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TELANDER: Mike Ditka handling ‘mini-stroke’ with all the iron we’d expect

Mike Ditksays he’s fine after “mini-stroke.” His health scare reinforces whan irreplaceable character he is for Chicago. | Kiichiro Sato~AP

Mike Ditka says he’s fine after a “mini-stroke.” His health scare reinforces what an irreplaceable character he is for Chicago. | Kiichiro Sato~AP

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Updated: December 19, 2012 1:31PM



Try to imagine Chicago without deep-dish pizza or Wrigley Field or indicted aldermen. Hard to do, right?

Now try to think of our toddlin’ town without Mike Ditka. Impossible.

Thus, our equilibrium got shaken a bit when we heard Da Coach had suffered a minor stroke Friday. He was at his beloved Bob O’Link golf club in Highland Park when he started feeling woozy and had slurred speech, and he was quickly taken to a suburban hospital for treatment.

‘‘It was a mini-stroke, or whatever you call them,’’ he growled to sportscaster Mark Giangreco over the phone.

That reminded this scribe of the “Saturday Night Live’’ Superfans skit, wherein the roundtable panelists debate which team would win — the Ditka-coached Bears or the Giants — if the Bears were just 14 inches tall. Consensus: The Bears in a close one. Then this:

Todd O’Conner: ‘‘What about Ditka? Would he be mini, too?’’

Bill Swerski: ‘‘No, he would be full-grown.’’

Todd O’Conner: ‘‘Oh, then, uh . . . Mini-Bears 31, Giants 7.’’

Carl Wollarski: ‘‘Oh, hold on! Then I change mine, too. I thought it was Mini-Ditka.’’

When I talked to the full-sized one on the phone Friday evening, he sounded like his usual never-stop-moving self.

‘‘I’m OK,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m at the hospital. I’ll probably be here overnight. But I’m fine.”

Ditka spent Saturday at Highland Park Hospital, resting and watching college football. When I asked him on the phone if he needed anything, he replied, “A fillet!”

Da Coach has da appetite for life, you know.

Ditka is one of only two men to have won a Super Bowl ring as a player, assistant coach and head coach. And the other, Tom Flores, is barely a blip on the radar.

It’s hard to believe that Ditka actually was born in Aliquippa, Pa., not far from Pittsburgh, and was not found in a woven basket on the shores of Lake Michigan or forged in a mill this side of Gary, Ind.

He is linked so tightly to the history of the Bears, to George Halas, to players such as Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, to the team’s 1963 championship and its only Super Bowl title in 1985, and to the everyday Bears fans who pride themselves on being from the City of Big Shoulders, that Ditka is a living legend. That he snaps at rude people and kisses babies and speaks out for all kinds of charitable causes and basically speaks his mind on just about anything has only endeared him to a populace that sees him as tough, authentic and unbroken.

It often strikes me that fellow Hall of Famer Butkus, who actually was born in Chicago, could have stayed here and pretty much owned the city, too. But he went to Malibu after his playing career, and, as we know, SoCal is to Chicago as a feather boa is to a chain.

So we have Ditka restaurants and Ditka wine and Ditka commercials and Ditka cigars. We also have Ditka traveling all over the country doing his ESPN TV shows and appearances. Which makes us wonder, was this little stroke a message about slowing down?

Just thinking of Mike Ditka, vulnerable, is hard enough. Not since his heart attack in 1988 had it seemed the Bears’ then-head coach had any weaknesses. Of course, nobody has ever counted the broken bones or torn ligaments or replaced hip sockets that Ditka has incurred as real wounds.

Ditka shrugs such things off. Nuisances. Why, one time his just-surgically repaired hip popped out of its socket on the golf course, and Da Coach lay down on the fairway and let his playing partner, former Lions middle linebacker Mike Lucci, yank it back into place.

‘‘He’s Iron Mike,’’ his agent Steven Mandell said Friday. ‘‘So we just figured he’s made of iron.’’

But he’s not, of course, even if the metal replacements in his body have given him the gait of the tin man. He wasn’t always so beloved, and it would be wrong to say there aren’t still some people out there who have a grievance against him, likely for some slight or crudeness from many years ago. Or else they’re Green Bay Packers fans.

So Ditka’s little scare should make us even happier to have the 73-year old icon bopping around our town. Or hobbling. Consider:

Bill Swerski: What is God’s role in this? Obviously, he’s rooting for Da Bears.

Pat Arnold: Otherwise, he wouldn’t have put ’em in Chicago.

Carl Wollarski: That’s right.

Bill Swerski: That’s right. Da question is: Now, did God create Da Bears, and make them superior to all teams? Or is he simply a huge fan, and Ditka made them superior to all other teams?

Carl Wollarski: That’s a tough one.

Fun-nee! But it’s not tough at all.



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