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1985 Bears Coverage: Don’t blame cop, Ditka says of arrest

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Don’t blame cop, Ditka says of arrest

Hugh Hough; Herb Gould

Originally published Oct. 15, 1985

A contrite Bears coach Mike Ditka said yesterday that fans shouldn’t blame the state trooper who arrested him on a drunken driving charge.

Irate fans bombarded State Police with angry phone calls after learning of Ditka’s arrest early yesterday on the Tri-State Tollway.

Ditka had just got off a charter flight that returned the Bears to O’Hare Airport from San Francisco, where they defeated the 49ers 26-10.

He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding and improper lane usage.

At the Bears’ regular Monday press conference in Lake Forest, Ditka said of his arrest, “It’s an unfortunate and disappointing situation. I’ve retained a lawyer and will deal with it when the proper time comes.”

Later in the conference, he said, “I just think there are rights and wrongs in life. I’m just a person. I have no animosity toward anybody. What was done was done.”

As for the calls to police, Ditka said, “The calls really don’t help anything. If they the callers really analyze it, they’d probably come to the same conclusion that I do.”

A Bears spokesman, when asked why Ditka hadn’t been supplied with a chauffeur after a trip in which some celebrating might have been anticipated, replied that Ditka received “many offers” of rides home but declined them.

Ditka was arrested at 12:14 a.m., and the phones started ringing at the State Police tollway district office in Oak Brook immediately after early-morning radio broadcasts broke the news.

“We’ve been called everything in the book that you can think of,” said Trooper Louis Jurkowlaniec, one of the officers kept busy answering calls on seven extensions.

Another trooper, Sandra Mosley, quoted one indignant caller as saying: “Mike Ditka is the best thing that ever happened to Chicago.” But, Mosley added, “If the officer had not done his job, Ditka may have been dead.”

Mosley said Ditka’s northbound 1985 Mercedes-Benz was halted on the tollway near Dempster as he drove toward his home in Grayslake. Mosley declined to say how fast Ditka was driving.

She said the arresting officer described Ditka as being “polite and courteous, very gentlemanly” while he was being processed at the Touhy Avenue toll plaza.

He declined to submit to a breath test, she said.

Ditka’s car was towed to his home, a standard procedure in such cases. He took a cab home.

Ditka, who posted a $100 bond and surrendered his driver’s license, is to appear Nov. 8 in the Schaumburg branch of Circuit Court.

Gary Mack, an aide to Secretary of State Jim Edgar, said that although a conviction for drunken driving is punishable by up to a year in prison and a maximum $1,000 fine, the vast majority of first-time defendants in Cook County are placed under court supervision.

Mack said a check showed Ditka had a “completely clean” driving record over the last five years.

The arresting officer, who wasn’t identified, was defended by Edgar and fellow troopers.

“It’s just not right to heap abuse on the police,” Edgar said. “I watched the game just as every loyal Bear fan did. Mike Ditka has done a great job as coach.

“I’m sure people were disappointed in what happened. I just hope an awareness on the public’s part will come out of this: That no matter who you are, don’t drink and drive.”

Ditka, 45, was accompanied to the press conference by defensive tackle Steve McMichael and running back Walter Payton.

McMichael said of the coach’s arrest: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Payton said: “Everybody gets stopped by police. Have you ever gotten stopped? He’s a human being.”

Michael B. McCaskey, president of the Bears, said he has asked the Bears’ general counsel, Don Reuben, to represent Ditka.

“Nothing has happened to diminish my confidence in Mike Ditka,” McCaskey said. “He is a fine person and an outstanding football coach.”

Ditka had been in a buoyant mood as he boarded the plane after his team’s sixth consecutive victory.

In a postgame interview, WBBM-TV sportscaster Jeannie Morris wished him a happy flight home and Ditka joked, “I hope I remember that plane ride home.”