Mike Ditka poses for photograph during a Dec. 12 appearance at Binny's Beverage Depot in Niles to promote his new line of wines. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
NILES — Carrying footballs, photographs, Chicago Bears memorabilia and bottles of his new wine, fans of Mike Ditka anxiously stood in line for several hours to get an autograph from the former Bears coach at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Niles.
Ditka was at the store Dec. 12 promoting his new line of wines with names like “The Player” and “The Hall of Famer.” His line includes Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and others.
“The day has been terrific,” said Steve Mandell, Ditka’s business manager.
Chuck Campagna, general manager of the Binny’s Beverage Depot Niles location at 8935 N. Milwaukee Ave., said fans started to get in line at 1 p.m. for the signing that took place from 6 to 8 p.m. Hundreds of other fans had to be turned down due to the big turnout.
“It shows how popular he is and what an impact he has made on the Chicago community,” said Brad Hokin, a fan and friend of Mandell’s. “He really takes the time for every single person.”
Campagna said that the liquor store chain has had celebrity signings at some of the Chicago locations, but it is a rare occasion for the Niles store.
Mandell said that Ditka, a Hall of Famer and Chicago sports legend, has always loved wine and his wine is sold at his iconic steak houses.
“People are buying four to five cases at a time,” noted Mandell, who said that the wines are perfect for holiday gifts. Ditka was also promoting his line of cigars at the event.
Hokin said that Ditka truly represents Chicago sports and he felt it was great for the Niles community to have him promoting his wines in town.
Holding signed Chicago Bears memorabilia, Fred Rodriguez drove all the way from Indiana to see Ditka.
“We’ve met him three or four times before,” Rodriguez said.
Daniel and Graham Cohen, high school students who live in Northbrook, purchased photographs of Ditka online so that he could sign them during his Binny’s appearance.
“I’ve never met him before,” said Daniel Cohen. “I think it’s really cool that he’s doing this. I’m a big Bears fan.”
The brothers were in line since 4:30 p.m. and finally got their turn to meet Ditka a few hours later, just like many of the other enthusiastic fans.
According to a handout given at the event, Ditka teamed up with Bill Terlato, of Terlato Wines, who shares his passion for sports, food, wine and a good cigar, to create a high quality line of wines.