Chicago Sun-Times

Sneak Peak at NFL Network's "Mike Ditka: A Football Life"

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When he started working on "Mike Ditka: A Football Life," NFL Films producer Bennett Viseltear figured the central character was carefully crafted.

"I guess, as an outside fan, some of that was an act. Always the tough guy, always Iron Mike Ditka," Viseltear said. "But that's how he is."

As a player, as a coach, as an NFL commentator, Ditka shoots it straight, with nary a filter, and always with a lot of flair.

Viseltear recalled how they were at an ESPN production meeting, and people were preparing plates of food.

"Ditka grabs a burger, no plate, takes a bit, puts it on the table in front of him," Viseltear said. "That's Ditka.

"No frills, no fuss."

"Mike Ditka: A Football Life," premiers Thursday night at 9 p.m. CST on the NFL Network.

It's a terrific peak at an NFL lifer, a Hall of Fame player who then coached one of the greatest teams ever, the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Viseltear, who co-produced it with Steve Seidman, noted that they interviewed Ditka for about three hours and followed him around for many more.

"He's a larger than life guy," Viseltear said. "He's big in person, and he's got a big personality. He can be intimidating, and gruff, but he can be fun too.

"He never refused anything. He was really fun to work with."

Viseltear said his favorite interview was former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon.

"Mainly because he's lot like Mike," Viseltear said. "He said, 'Mike was a tight end, so of course he called plays like a tight end.' "

The highlights of Ditka as a player are phenomenal, showcasing his athleticism and playmaking skills, which were ahead of his time. On several touchdowns, Ditka plows through a handful of defenders.

During the piece, there's the obligatory mention of how much Ditka has commercialized, from cigars, to wines to hot sauces. But one of the best examined Ditka's relationship with quarterbacks, with telling comments from Jim Harbaugh, now the San Francisco 49ers head coach.

"A lot of what Ditka taught him has rubbed off," Viseltear said. "Not everyone will agree with what you do, and not everyone will love you. But you have to ignore your critics and do it your own way."

For a sneak peak of "Mike Ditka: A Football Life," click here

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Jensen published on October 27, 2011 5:05 PM.

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