STEUBENVILLE - The words of the coach apply in life and business as much as on the football field.
Those words were delivered by NFL legend Mike Ditka in his keynote speech during the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce's 102nd-annual meeting and banquet Wednesday evening at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
"I'm just a guy from Aliquippa who has been blessed," said the man who won Super Bowls as a player (Super Bowl VI with Dallas), an assistant coach (Super Bowl XII with Dallas) and as a head coach (Super Bowl XX with Chicago.)
Ditka VIP Reception
He spoke of his playing days, saying he became a better player because of the influence of great coaches, including NFL founding father George Halas, who hired him at the princely sum of $18,000 a year in 1961 to play for the Bears; Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, who gave Ditka a chance at a second wind in his career when he had retired after a dismal stint with the Philadelphia Eagles; and Green Bay's Vince Lombardi, whom he said taught that practice doesn't make perfect but perfect practice makes perfect.
He said the influence of Landry made him an unselfish player and, though statistics might say his best days were with the Bears, Ditka believes his best days as a player were under Landry.
"He was a great man of faith and a great man of family. Those came first," he said. It also was Landry's influence that put Ditka on the sidelines as a special teams and receivers coach, which led him eventually to his time as head coach of the Bears. Ditka said he was happy as part owner in a series of nightclubs around the country after leaving the playing field and hadn't given coaching a thought until Landry called.
RECONNECTING — Hank Kuzma, left, development official with the Franciscan University of Steubenville, hugs NFL legend Mike Ditka before the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s 102nd-annual meeting and banquet held at the university Wednesday evening. Kuzma, who is a high school basketball coaching legend in Pennsylvania for his teams in Midland and Hershey in the 1960s, knew Ditka when he was a youth. — Paul Giannamore
The lesson, he said, is that others don't motivate a person.
"If you want to do something, you find a way to do it. Success is about happiness. You will be a success when you are happy," he said. "You never lose in life until you quit, but the moment you quit, you become a loser."
Ditka's central message is Attitude, Character and Enthusiasm, or A.C.E.
Of attitude, he said, "10 percent of life is what happens to you. Ninety percent is how you react to it," he said. "God gave you a choice. You choose what attitude you want to be."
Of character, Ditka said a person can be talented, but he will take his chances with a person with character.
"It's what you really believe in, what you stand for, what you would die for," he said. Thoughts eventually become words, then actions, habits and then that becomes character.
"It will define your destiny in life," he said.
As for enthusiasm, Ditka said it's a matter of choosing to be excited.
"If you don't like what you are doing, don't do it. But don't be a whiner and a complainer. If you have a job, be nice to the people you work with and work for. What's the matter with that?" he said.
In a question-and-answer session, Ditka spoke of visiting his 89-year-old mother in the hospital in Aliquippa earlier in the day.
His introduction was on video by Steubenville's Danny Abramowicz, who was a wide receiver in the 1960s and 1970s for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers. Abramowicz served as an assistant coach with Ditka there in the 1990s.
"Danny Abramowicz maximized the talent he had to become a better athlete than he was. He drove himself to it. It didn't come easy," Ditka said.
As for the state of the game today, Ditka offered several thoughts.
Helmets, he said, are weapons because of the way players are taught to play the game. The massive face masks don't help.
"When I played, we had a single bar across there. All these cutie pies today wouldn't strike with their helmet if there was just a single bar on there," he said.
He also said the issue of the 18-game NFL schedule would require expansion of team rosters, which would mean more money to be spent. He said without a rookie salary cap, the NFL will fall apart as costs rise to the point where teams can't afford to get players.
Ditka said he's disappointed in the state of the game today, where players, coaches and owners think the game centers on them.
"It should be about all the people who made the game what it is today," he said.
As for being the "greatest," he said some say it was the 1960s Packers, or the 1970s Steelers or his 1985 Bears.
"Michael Jordan was the greatest, now you tell me it's this kid from Cleveland. It's all relative," he said. "You can only be the best person you can be. Be the best wife, husband, friend, worker or neighbor. You can't worry about anything else."
(Giannamore can be contacted by email@example.com.)