Fans celebrate Mike Ditka’s birthday with pickleball event

Author: Sylvie Sparks
Published: Updated:

Donning mustaches and pickleball paddles, Bears fans gathered at the Naples Pickleball Center to celebrate Mike Ditka’s birthday.

The hall-of-fame tight end and legendary Chicago Bears head coach, who now lives in southwest Florida, turned 84 on Wednesday.

He could not make it to the celebration, but those who know him describe him as a great guy.

19-year-old NFL quarterback Jim Hart played against Ditka on the gridiron.

“I would not want to be a defender and try to tackle that son of a gun,” Hart said. “He could hurt you.”

Hart and Ditka formed a bond off the field as well and spent many years raising money for charities in southwest Florida.

Charlie Babb spent eight years in the NFL.

His rookie season was the year Ditka retired from playing, but Babb recalls looking up to him when he was young.

“You take Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Larry Zonka, they’re the epitome of football. The reputation of football: tough, play hard, competitive. They were always just over aggressive and I always respected them for that.”

Several others who respect the coach both on and off the field had one main message for Ditka today.

“We just want to wish the coach a happy birthday from two really great Chicago girls,” Bears fans Norlaine Elsbury and Karen Majerczak said.

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