Former Bears coach Mike Ditka suffers 'very minor stroke'

Mike Ditka in 2009. (Phil Velasquez/Tribune Photo)

Former Bears coach and Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka was hospitalized Friday after suffering what he said doctors told him was a "very minor stroke."

Contacted Friday evening, Ditka said, "I feel good right now and it's not a big deal."

Ditka was at a suburban country club playing cards Friday when he noticed his hands "weren't working quite right," and then he had a problem speaking.

Ditka, 73, has not had any major health problems in recent years. But in 1988 when he was coaching the Bears he suffered a heart attack.

These days, Ditka spends his time doing broadcast work for ESPN, tending to his restaurant Ditka's on East Chestnut in the Tremont Hotel, making appearances and playing golf.

Ditka will not fulfill his ESPN duties from Bristol, Conn., this weekend, the network said.

After he suffered his heart attack at 49, he was back in the office eight days later and back on the sidelines in 11 days against doctor's orders.

At the time, Ditka said he was "embarrassed" by the heart attack, and he reflected on his mortality when he returned to Halas Hall.

"I don't know what I experienced," he said at the time. "I think I almost experienced embarrassment. It kind of was embarrassing that it happened to me. I mean, how could this ever happen to me? That's the way I felt in the beginning, and then it didn't matter. I mean it was so bad at a certain point that I knew that we're just mortals. I mean, we're here for a while and then we're gone. It can happen to anybody at any time. It was a very humbling feeling after that, believe me."

The Bears made Ditka the fifth overall pick in the 1961 draft out of Pittsburgh. He was rookie of the year and went to five straight Pro Bowls for the Bears. As a pass catching tight end, he helped redefine the position.

Ditka eventually ran afoul of owner-coach George Halas and was traded to the Eagles in 1967. He finished up his playing career with the Cowboys.

In 1982, Halas hired Ditka to coach his team. Ditka was coach of the year in 1985, when the Bears won the Super Bowl, and in 1988. After going 5-11 in 1992, Ditka was fired.

He coached the Saints for three seasons, retiring with a record of 121-95, before settling into his broadcasting career. Ditka is one of only two men, Tom Flores being the other, to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter@dan pompei