Da Coach on Cutler, Cubs, Kaepernick and … pot

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Mike Ditka attended a panel discussion on concussions in the NFL hosted by the City Club of Chicago on Monday morning. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times


Does it concern you the amount of pressure Jay Cutler was under in the second half against the Texans?

Yes and it concerns him, too. It concerns the coaching staff. The offensive line’s gotta do their job. It’s a man-on-man battle in most cases. You gotta handle your man and make sure you don’t put the other linemen in jeopardy where they have to come off their block to pick up your guy. Pass protection is probably the hardest thing to do in the NFL. You just gotta do a better job of protecting him. Jay Cutler’s a very talented individual, but I don’t care if you’re Johnny Unitas, if you’re throwing backing up all of the time or if you’re throwing off your back, you’re not going to be very successful.

Colin Kaepernick once again refused to stand for the national anthem. How would you have handled this if Kaepernick was your quarterback?

We live in a different time as a society. He has a right to do what he wants to do. You don’t want to disrespect the game and you don’t want to disrespect this great country. That’s what bothers me. If he wasn’t in this country, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to make millions of dollars. C’mon! When you stop and think about it, it’s kind of hypocritical. I would get down and kiss the ground if somebody wanted to pay me $12 million dollars a year to play a kids’ game. Actually, I had a helluva lot of fun playing it for a lot less. He has a right to do what he wants to do, there is no question about that.

Ricky Williams said last month he would be a Hall of Famer if marijuana was legal. Do you agree?

That’s a pretty good statement. Maybe he would have been, who knows? I love Ricky Williams. He was a great kid when I had him. We drafted him for the right reasons. Yeah, he had a little bit of a habit but if that’s the worst thing you do … I don’t know if that’s bad or if you do something that gets you all juiced up. So I don’t really know what’s worse. I was hoping he wasn’t doing it when we were playing, but I’m sure he had his times. I like Ricky Williams so I’m not going to preach against something that he believes in. I don’t believe in it but what I believe in doesn’t matter. If it helps him, fine. And I’m sure there will come a time and I don’t know when it will be but people will say, ‘Marijuana’s ok. That’s no problem.’ And we’ll think of all the guys who advocated for it and were chastised for it and how upset we were but now it’s OK. I don’t know if it ever will be OK. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. The world does turn around.

The Cubs are playing your Cardinals this week. You’ve been around this town for a long time. Can this Cubs team win it all?

This is a special team. I think Joe Maddon has done a fantastic job. These are just good players having fun and playing baseball. It’s nice to see that again. There are a lot of young guys and they don’t know if they have any shortcomings or not. They go out there every day and play ball. It reminds me of when we were kids. We picked sides, went out there and played ball. And that’s what they’re doing and they’re good at it. They got very steady pitching and timely hitting. It’s fun to watch. Can they go all the way? We hope they can. You gotta like what they’re doing.

Speaking of turning around, you’ve been turning heads with your new beard.

People do a double-take when they see me and I just tell them it’s a sign of getting old. I decided to grow it and it’s OK with me. I’m not looking for any beauty contests or anything. People say I look like Ernest Hemingway. I wish I was as smart as Ernest Hemingway.

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