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Da wife: It ‘was love at first sight’

Mike Ditkwith his wife Diana.  |  Ramzi Dreessen/Sun-Times file photo

Mike Ditka with his wife, Diana. | Ramzi Dreessen/Sun-Times file photo

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Updated: January 9, 2014 6:48AM

Diana dishes on Da Coach. . .

He calls her “honey.”

She claims it “was love at first sight.”

But Iron Mike Ditka, the legendary Chicago Bears coach whose No. 89 is being retired Monday during halftime of the Bears’ Monday Night Football game, is no softie.

So how does Diana Ditka, who has been married to Da Coach for 36 years, describe her hubby?

“Tough, tough, tough, and then tough,” she told Sneed when chatting about the event her husband calls “the culmination of all your efforts, all your ambitions and all your dreams.”

“His father was an ex-Marine, but not a real big man and Mike was scared to death of him,” she said. “He never let his kids get away with anything. One time Mike set the woods on fire in back of his house and his dad beat the heck out of him.

“He used to tell Mike: ‘I taught you everything you know, but I didn’t teach you everything I know!’

“When I first met Mike, he was a Dallas Cowboy. . .

“He now jokes he enjoys sleeping more than anything, but honestly, he works so hard and is always traveling. It’s hectic now more than ever, but we have such a great, exciting life together.

“Quite frankly, I love him more than I love myself.”

The man described by Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey as an “icon,” who has become a formidable pitchman of products and football commentator since being fired as the Bears’ coach in 1992, is unlike his public persona, said his wife.

◆ “He is nothing like he is in front of the microphone when he is home,” she said. “He is quiet at home.”

◆ Her past reflections about her legendary hubby:

◆ He loves to wear orange and black, but not together.

◆ He loves pork chops and her coconut cake.

◆ He loved their three Schnauzers, named Jake, Georgie and JJ.

◆ He hated the years he played with the Philadelphia Eagles (1967-68). “He was kept on the bench and it was the worst time of his life,” Diana said. “He doesn’t like to talk about those years.”

◆ He used to be a great dancer; but he was impossible to be around when he lost a football game.

Over and out.

An UNO out!

Sneed hears Juan Rangel, who just stepped aside as longtime leader of the politically powerful United Neighborhood Organization in the wake of a scandal, is heading to Mexico for a week.

◆ Backshot: The scandal cost UNO, which operates the largest charter-school network in Illinois, millions in state funding and led to a federal probe of its bond deals.

◆ Buckshot: Meanwhile, in the wake of Rangel’s departure, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was spotted huddling Friday with Ald. Danny Solis, who is rumored to have been the boot behind Rangel’s kick in the pants — at a very private table for two at Misericordia’s Greenhouse Inn Restaurant.

Fur flap. . .

Vegan schmegan: Beyonce and hubby Jay Z have just embarked on their 22-day vegan challenge, but already Sneed smells trouble.

◆ Translation: As the couple entered a Hollywood vegan restaurant Thursday, Jay Z was sporting some leather boots. . . and Beyonce wore a jacket with a fur collar!

Mandela moments. . .

◆ Heartbreaking: Two of Nelson Mandela’s daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, learned of their father’s death Thursday while attending the London premiere of the latest film made about his life, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

◆ Heartwarming: State Treasurer and GOP guv candidate Dan Rutherford actually has a Mandela campaign poster hanging in his office.

Sneedlings. . .

Begorrah! Màirtìn Ò Muilleoir (O’Malley) , Northern Ireland’s Lord Mayor of Belfast and a close friend of Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, spotted dining with former L.A. Times/Tribune/Chicago News Cooperative editor James O’Shea and ex-journo Dorothy Collin at Coco Pazzo eatery Thursday night and chatting it up with Chris Kennedy at a nearby table. . . Saturday’s birthdays: Larry Bird, 57; Tom Waits, 64; Ellen Burstyn, 81, and happy belated to Frank Gardner, ageless. . . Sunday’s birthdays: Kim Basinger, 60; Teri Hatcher, 49, and Nicki Minaj, 31.

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