Mike Ditka is at the heart of much of what makes the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers rivalry what it is.
As a player and coach for the Bears, he’s experienced a lot but he’s got no love whatsoever for former Packers great and coach Forrest Gregg. Ditka made that clear on “Mike and Mike” on ESPN Radio this week when talking about the colorful series that will be renewed Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
“(Ray) Nitschke tried to kill me,” Ditka said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He tried to kill everybody. That's the way he played. He was a great football player. You had to fight fire with fire. You had to try to kill him. Every once in awhile you would get a shot in and he'd really get mad. Man, he was tough. It's just the way it was.”
He didn’t have as many glowing things to say about the rivalry when he was a coach during the 1980’s. Those games were marred by some ugly play at times. The worst incident happened in 1986 when Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin body slammed Bears quarterback Jim McMahon to the turf a full two seconds after he’d released a pass, resulting in a right shoulder injury.
“Unfortunately, that was the only bad time in the history of the rivalry, when it got to be ugly,” Ditka said. “And it was ugly. You can't try to hurt people and they tried to hurt some of our guys. (Running back) Matt Suhey is lucky he didn't get hurt badly. And when McMahon was picked up by Charles Martin and thrown down, he was lucky he wasn't hurt very badly.
“These things were after the play, after the fact. So either you are coaching that or your players are stupid. That's what I'm going to say. In this case I believe they were coached. That's why I never got along with Forrest Gregg. To this day I don't respect him for that reason. . . . When the play is over and you pick somebody up and slam them on the ground. 'Oh, big deal' (Martin says). I'm a tough guy.' You're not a tough guy. You're a dumb guy.”
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune