Former Bears coach “Iron” Mike Ditka was hospitalized in Naples, Fla., earlier this week after suffering a heart attack.
A source told Sneed that Ditka was playing golf on Wednesday before he went to the hospital. On Saturday morning — several hours after Sneed first reported on Ditka’s hospitalization — Ditka’s agent, Steve Mandell, broke his silence about the coach’s health.
“Coach Ditka had a mild heart attack earlier this week. Doctors inserted a pacemaker, and he is doing much better,” Mandell told ESPN. “He appreciates the outpouring of support and expects to be home soon.”
Ditka has a home in Naples. Family members couldn’t be reached for comment.
“He’s hanging in there,” one of his close friends said on Saturday, adding that the coach was still in the hospital — “and pretty ornery.”
Ditka, who celebrated his 79th birthday last month, famously had a heart attack while coaching the Bears in 1988. He returned to work 11 days later.
In 2012, he suffered a stroke while at Bob O’Link Golf Club in Highland Park after he began to feel woozy and had some difficulty speaking, the Sun-Times reported at the time. Back then, Da Coach spoke to Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander from his room at NorthShore Highland Park Hospital, saying: “I’m OK. I’ll probably be here overnight, but I’m fine.” When he got out, he told a radio station: “I’ve got to slow down a little bit.”
Sneed is told the once hard-charging coach now exercises regularly and plays a lot of golf. His heavy drinking days are behind him. He still smokes cigars, however.
In a conversation just last week, he was upbeat and energetic when talking about the Bears’ stellar season.
He praised current Bears head coach — and fellow Pennsylvanian — Matt Nagy as “fantastic” and said he strongly feels the Bears will advance to the playoffs this season.
“The Bears are going to do it,” Ditka told Sneed.
He said he typically watched the games at his home in Florida. “I get nice and cozy on the couch with a cigar and watch the games,” he said.
The big question: was he able to watch the Thanksgiving game Thursday when the Bears beat the Lions? Sneed’s bet: no.