The incessantly pacing, dirt-kicking Mike Ditka was my special teams coach and a great mentor. Getting a wink and fist pump from Iron Mike for a job well done was rare and an honor akin to throwing red meat in my direction.
Ninety percent of the time, he was either in someone’s face chewing them out and giving an icy I’d kill you if it was legal glance that crushed any player. However, I was lucky to be on the receiving end of the kind ten percent he rarely displayed in public.
Ditka took me on walks several times during my first year to impart his wisdom when he sensed my frustration mounting. He reminded me that everyone on the field possessed the physical tools, but what would separate me from other players was found from the shoulders up. Since then, I have passed that wisdom onto many since it applies to all, regardless of their sport.
Even with that insight, the incessant yelling from my Cowboys’ line coach, Jim Myers, would send my head into a tailspin and rock my confidence until Ditka again offered me some mind-bending insight. “Start worrying if Jim stops yelling at you,” Ditka stated definitively during one of our post-practice walks. "He sees more in you than you see in yourself.” Ditka said as he stopped to look me in the eyes. “Trust the process, Steve; he knows what he’s doing.”
Within a millisecond, I felt light as air. I smiled at Ditka and shook my head. I had much to learn about the mental fortitude needed to thrive in this profession.
More on this story and others in my forthcoming memoir, Aggressively Human, to be released on all platforms in November 2023.
Photo Credit: Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun-Times, Originally published Nov. 15, 1985