The Chicago Bears retired Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end and former head coach Mike Ditka’s No. 89 jersey at halftime of Monday’s Bears-Dallas Cowboys game at Soldier Field.
Ditka was part of the Bears’ last two NFL titles (1963 and 1985) as he played for Chicago from 1961-66 and coached the team from 1982-92. He is the only player in the NFL’s modern era to win a title with the same team as a player (1963) and head coach (1985).
Ditka also played for the Cowboys from 1969-72, including the club’s Super Bowl VI win over Miami.
In 1988, Ditka became the first tight end ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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Ditka’s No. 89 is the 14th jersey number to be retired by the franchise. The others are Bronko Nagurski (No. 3), George McAfee (5), George Halas (7), Willie Galimore (28), Walter Payton (34), Gale Sayers (40), Brian Piccolo (41), Sid Luckman (42), Dick Butkus (51), Bill Hewitt (56), Bill George (61), Clyde “Bulldog” Turner (66), and Harold “Red” Grange (77).
The official temperature at kickoff was 8 degrees, with a wind chill of minus-7 thanks to gusts of up to 26 mph.
The previous record low for a regular-season Cowboys game was 16 degrees in 1963 in St. Louis. The Ice Bowl, which kicked off at minus-13 degrees, is the only one lower in team history.
“I played a lot of our games in cold weather, and I think you become comfortable with it over time,” quarterback Tony Romo said last week. He grew up in Wisconsin and played college football at Eastern Illinois. “The more technically sound and fundamental you are with your throwing motion, you can neutralize that stuff and I think it can be an advantage for a football team.”
Middle linebacker Sean Lee is used to it, to, although he said Penn State did not play games after Thanksgiving.
“Being able to experience the cold here, I think will prepare us a little bit for what we’re going to see up in Chicago,” he said. “We know it’s going to be cold, and it’s part of the game, and we’re excited about it.
“Of course, you don’t have to like the cold to play well in the cold. But you do have to brave it.”
Said cornerback Orlando Scandrick: “You better have your mental toughness and focus and the will to go out and do it. Whether it’s 100 degrees or it’s 51 degrees — it’s going to be hot when it’s 100, it’s going to be cold when it’s 50-something — you’ve got to have the mental toughness and focus.”
That’s what tight end Jason Witten believes, too.
“You go against those environments, you can’t let that get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish,” Witten said. “It’s always tough when you play in those environments, but both teams have to play in it, and you have to fight through it.”
Witten said the Cowboys are equipped to fight through it.
“Tony does a good job throwing it. He has a strong arm. The wind doesn’t affect him,” Witten said. “It’s not ideal for anybody, but you play long enough, you are going to play in games like that. Surface is going to be tough and all that. But you have to work on your balance. There is no excuse within that. I think our team has done a good job of not allowing that to get in the way. We have to be able to handle that.”
The Cowboys didn’t expect Jay, who now goes by Jeremiah, Ratliff, to play this season. If he did, they expected him to play for them.
The Cowboys did not expect to release Ratliff. Neither did they expect to see him across the field.
Ratliff signed with the Bears on Nov. 2, 17 days after the Cowboys released him.
“Well, Ratliff ought to be, in my opinion, right out here with the Cowboys right now, and that has a lot of reasons why that’s where he should be,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM. “I’m surprised he’s playing football up there, relative to his doctors and relative to his opinion of how his health was when he left here.”
The Cowboys kept Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler, on the physically unable to perform list for six weeks while he recovered from sports hernia surgery. He played his first game of the season last week with the Bears, making a half tackle in 23 snaps.
“In the weeks that he’s been here, he worked very, very hard to get ready and to get himself back on the field,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said in a conference call. “His personality has been a great fit for our locker room. While he wasn’t playing, he was with the guys; he was helping them out, coaching our younger guys. I think he’s been a great fit as a personality for our locker room. We see him as just being a great person. He’s brought his family here almost immediately, and he got some reps. He got about 20 something reps on Sunday and played well. So we hope to see more of him this week.”
Monday Night Madness
The Dallas Cowboys made their 75th appearance on Monday Night Football, which ranks second behind Miami’s 80, since 1970.
The Cowboys have made at least one Monday Night Football appearance in 40 of the past 43 seasons, and in each of the past 11, including 2013. They have made one of more appearances in the same season 25 times.
Last season, the Cowboys hosted the Bears on Monday night, Oct. 1, and lost 34-18.
The Cowboys’ first-ever Monday night game was Nov. 16, 1970, in a 38-0 loss to St. Louis. The game was played at the Cotton Bowl in front of a crowd of 69,323. The Cowboys won their next five regular-season games and two playoff games before losing to Baltimore in Super Bowl V.
The Cowboys’ first-ever Monday night win was on Oct. 11, 1971 in a 20-13 triumph over the New York Giants.
Behind the Dolphins and Cowboys, the other top-five teams in appearances include San Francisco (69), Denver, (66), and Oakland (65).
NFC North cycle
The Cowboys are playing the NFC North this season as part of the league’s rotating schedule cycle.
Monday’s game was the third contest against the NFC North. The Cowboys lost at Detroit 31,30 and beat Minnesota 27-23 on Nov. 3. The Cowboys close out the cycle by hosting Green Bay next week, Dec. 15.
Dallas entered Monday’s game with an overall record of 57-50 against NFC North.