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Four downs with Ditka

Mike Ditka

Mike Ditka

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Updated: August 15, 2013 6:33AM

1. Of all the quarterbacks, past and present, who would you have liked to play tight end for?

I played tight end for Billy Wade, and he threw the football to me. I played tight end for Roger Staubach, and he threw the football to me. I really think a lot of it depends on the way the offense is set up. It depends if you’re going to have an offense based around the tight end or the running back or wide receiver. The quarterback has to be confident in you that you’re going to run the right routes and catch the ball in tough situations.

But I look at all the great ones over the years [laughing], and I have no idea. I really enjoyed my time with Roger Staubach, and I really enjoyed my time in Chicago with Bill Wade. They were great for me, but that was a long time ago.

I look at guys like [Tom] Brady and [Drew] Brees . . . the talent is phenomenal. The guy up in Green Bay [Aaron Rodgers], I think is the best in football. But that’s my opinion. I like what he does, and I like his leadership qualities. And I think that’s the other thing you have to look at. He has to be the guy in charge. And the team has to know it.

2. Of all the quarterbacks, past and present, who would you have liked to coach?

How could I say that I wouldn’t want to coach [Johnny] Unitas or Bart Starr? There’s been so many great ones. But if I had to coach one guy in my career, maybe it’d be be Aaron Rodgers.

3. Trying to make football safer is such a complex issue. What’s the No. 1 change you think the NFL could make?

Everything the NFL has done over the years has been to try and provide better equipment for the players to protect them. But in the process of putting better equipment on them, like the helmet they have now, it gives them the feeling of invincibility. They feel like they can do anything, strike with their head without any repercussions. That to me is the biggest problem, the helmet and the facemask. Now, you can’t change that. What the league is trying to do is absolutely right: You’re trying to make the game as safe as you can. But you have to understand, you can’t legislate hitting out of football. You can legislate blows to the head out of football, there’s no question about that. But the game is what it is. It’s a contact sport, a collision sport with people hitting each other very hard.

The biggest hits when I played were not with the helmet. Our helmets were shell plastic, with foam rubber inside and a single-bar face mask. The greatest idea in the world was not to hit someone with your helmet, believe me. It was to hit him with your shoulder, because the pads were bigger on your shoulder.

Now I think they have no fear when they put on the helmet because it’s a very protective thing. But when you have two of these helmets striking each other at a high rate of speed, something’s got to give.

4. You are going to be featured Sunday on an ESPN special about the Wrigley Field ‘‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’’ tradition. Take us back to that night in 1998 when you sang it in 22 seconds.

First of all, I was late getting there. I ran into the ballpark. Then, once I got in there, I had to go all the way up to the press box. By the time I got to the press box, I was winded. But listen, I never could sing. When I was in grade school, the nuns would make me hum. They wouldn’t let me sing. I was horrible. I have no ability to carry a tune. I just decided to do it as quick as I could, but, hey, it is what it is. And I’m not going back, either!

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