In Bears’ world, 99 won’t come after 89
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org May 24, 2013 11:53PM
** FILE ** Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka is carried off the field after leading the team to a win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans on Jan. 26, 1986. There is a movement to draft the tough-talking Ditka to to make a run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois on the Republican ticket replacing Jack Ryan, who dropped out of the race over embarrassing sex club allegations. Ditka said a Senate run is an exciting idea but he hasn't yet made up his mind. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin, File) ORG XMIT: CX103
Bears’ retired numbers
No. Player Years Pos.
3 Bronko Nagurski 1930-37, ’43 RB, T
5 George McAfee 1940-41, ’45-50 RB, DB
7 George Halas* 1920-29 E
28 Willie Galimore 1957-63 RB
34 Walter Payton 1975-87 RB
40 Gale Sayers 1965-71 RB
41 Brian Piccolo 1966-69 RB
42 Sid Luckman 1939-50 QB
51 Dick Butkus 1965-73 LB
56 Bill Hewitt 1932-36 E
61 Bill George 1952-65 LB
66 Clyde “Bulldog” Turner 1940-52 C, LB
77 Harold “Red” Grange 1925, ’29-34 RB, DB
89 Mike Ditka** 1961-66 TE
* Halas coached 1920-29, ’33-42, ’46-55, ’58-67.
** Ditka coached 1982-92.
Updated: June 26, 2013 6:19AM
Hall of Famer Dan Hampton doesn’t mind seeing defensive end Shea McClellin with his old No. 99 on his back.
To him, it’s actually cool.
“A number of players have worn [No. 99],” Hampton said. “It’s not like it’s a shock to see it on the field. But McClellin, a first-round draft pick, he’s expected to become a fine player for a decade. I look forward to seeing good things from him.”
It has been argued for years that Hampton’s No. 99 should be retired, but that won’t happen now. As of Friday, the Bears are finished with retiring numbers, announcing that Mike Ditka’s No. 89 will be the last.
The retirement ceremony will take place during halftime of the Bears’ “Monday Night Football” game Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys. A source also said there are plans to honor the Bears’ 1963 NFL championship team.
“This is a culmination of all your efforts, all your ambitions and all your dreams,” said Ditka, who was a Pro Bowl tight end on the Bears’ ’63 team and coached the Bears to their Super Bowl XX victory.
“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 say it is underdue or overdue, I don’t care about that. It happened.”
McCaskey called Ditka “an icon” and said in a statement that “if there is going to be a last one, there is no more appropriate one than 89.” But that leaves the numbers that Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Brian Urlacher made famous in circulation
It’s OK with Hampton, though. He said “the ultimate recognition is being in the Hall of Fame.”
“It’s simple math,” Hampton said of retired numbers. “This is a franchise with so many great players. If everybody’s number got retired, it would diminish the honor in a way. I understand. The trap of it all is that if you played for the Bears, you’re one of many. If you played in Tampa, what is there, a handful of guys?”
There are rules now that regulate which numbers can be worn at certain positions, and Ditka’s No. 89 will be the 14th retired by the Bears, which is the most in the league. Singletary’s No. 50 hasn’t been worn since he retired in 1992, but James Anderson will wear it this season. Ex-Bears tight end Matt Spaeth wore No. 89 the last two seasons.
“I don’t know if anybody played the game better than Dan Hampton,” Ditka said. “I have so much respect for what Dan did. Besides that, he and [Singletary] 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.”
Hampton said a form of recognition similar to the Seattle Seahawks’ Ring of Honor would be great, but “how crowded would that become?”
“That’s the glory of actually playing for this franchise,” Hampton said. “I mean, it’s not Seattle, where you’ve got one or two guys who have actually accomplished something.”
In the end, Hampton is happy for his former coach.
“Beyond his playing days, obviously, he was a transitional coach in the sense that he was a nationally known figure, known worldwide,” Hampton said.
“You show somebody a picture in Pakistan or someplace in Africa of all the NFL head coaches today and pictures of Ditka, I bet you 90 percent would know who Ditka is.”
Contributing: Dan Cahill