from left: Cubs mamager Leo Durocher photos by Bob Langer, golfer Arnold Palmer photos by Edward Deluga, Bears coach George Halas and tight end Mike Ditka photos by Bud Daley, and Blackhawks center Bill Hay photo by Bob Kotalik.
Updated: June 27, 2013 6:42AM
1. When you were growing up, did you ever imagine an honor like this?
When you’re growing up, you don’t think about things like this or the Hall of Fame. You think about playing football, the game you love. The things that happened to me are really unbelievable. I got signed to a pro football contract to play in the NFL by George Halas. I got signed to a coaching contract by George Halas. You know, he’s the one who made my career what it was in two cases. It’s kinda crazy, it really is. But it’s such an honor.
2. You once said George Halas ‘‘throws nickels around like manhole covers.’’ Did you two ever get past that?
I think it hurt him. It bothered him, even though I said it in jest. I said it as a joke at a banquet, trying to be a smart ass, like we all are. But I think it bothered him, I really do. And I told him that I never really meant it that way. But then again, he forgot about it because he hired me as a coach. But at that time, it did bother him. Don’t forget, that was the sixties. There was no big money being made in pro football, believe me.
3. Why did it take so long for them to retire your number? Is it because they’re running out of numbers?
I think it’s true that they are running out of numbers, and I understand that. But let me tell you something — if it didn’t happen, it’s not going to change my career. It would have never changed the way I played for the Bears . . . It would have never changed anything. It’s a great honor, considering the guys’ [numbers] who have been retired — Red Grange, Bronko [Nagurski], [Gale] Sayers, Dick Butkus — I mean, I can go on and on — Bill George — there’s a lot of guys out there who are in the Hall of Fame and had their number retired. If I didn’t, I would be able to live and exist. . . . What are you going to do? Put 101 on there and start going to three-digit numbers?
4. You’ve had a lot of honors. Where does this one stand?
This is a culmination of all your efforts, all your ambitions and all your dreams. First of all, I played for the Bears — not only played for them, but played well. You play well enough to make All-Pro, then you play well enough with the Bears and the Cowboys to get to the Hall of Fame. Then the coaching. But this is it. This is the culmination of everything. This is the final thing.
If you could have anyone that has passed away be there that night to see you honored, who would it be?
The most significant one would be Coach Halas. I think back to some of my pals who have passed away. Joe Marconi was my closest friend. Guys like him and Bill George, who I had a business with and played with. Yeah, it would be nice . . . But I really appreciate George McCaskey and Ted Phillips for making this happen. They didn’t have to make this happen, but they did. Whether people says its underdue or overdue, I don’t care about that.
You’ve always said that when you score a touchdown, you should act like you’ve been there. Are you going to act like you’ve been there that night?
Well, I think I have been there. That’s like the song Johnny Cash sings — [breaks into a Cash imitation], ‘I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve been everywhere.’ But yeah, I think there’s a way to handle success on the field. I don’t like the way a lot of guys do it now. I don’t think it’s about showboating. I don’t think it’s about calling attention to yourself. It’s about having respect for the game. The game’s going to be here long after I’m gone and long after these players are gone. I think that’s what we have to start understanding. Respect the game, and it will respect you. And, if you don’t respect the game, it will be a sad ending to what could have been a good situation.
Are there other guys, such as Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, whose numbers should be retired?
Absolutely, but you can’t get me into that. I think there are a lot of guys. I don’t know if anybody played the game better than Dan Hampton. I have so much respect for what Dan did. Besides that, he and Mike were leaders. Gary Fencik was the same way — a leader. It won’t go down this way, but they were as great as any Bears who ever played the game.
The Bears have had great middle linebackers. Where do you put Urlacher among them?
Well, you don’t want to do that. Butkus, Bill George, Singletary — they’re all Hall of Famers. So I don’t know if that’s fair to talk about it in that vein. But of all of them, he’s as athletic as any. [From sideline to sideline] he’s as fast as anyone. That’s what he did so well, and that’s what made him what he is. You know, he came in as a safety, and he’s a completely different guy now. He made himself into a great middle linebacker.
What do you see next for Urlacher? Possibly broadcasting?
I think he’d be great at it, but I don’t know if he’s going to do it. I think he just needs to enjoy life. Go out and enjoy your life. Don’t worry about the hectic life of getting ready for football all the time.