I never thought Mike Ditka would actually run for the United States Senate. But I really, really wanted him to.
Hey, I know he might not have been a great senator. He's too obnoxious, too impatient, too "either do it my way or I'll grab you by the shirt and shake you up good" for such a deliberative body. But there are plenty of lousy U.S. senators, mainly because so many professional politicians don't have even a hint of spine. Whatever else you might say about Mike Ditka, you have to agree he wouldn't be anyone's puppet.
Frankly, I didn't even care if he won. I just wanted him to run.
Mike Ditka does not like reporters and columnists. The Chicago sportswriters mercilessly trashed him even before his Bears finally fell apart. But Ditka gave as good as he got, ridiculing reporters for asking "stupid" questions at post-game press conferences, or wherever he happened to be at the moment. "What's the difference between a three-week-old puppy and a sportswriter?" he once asked. "In six weeks, the puppy will stop whining."
I've asked a few dumb questions at press conferences in my time, but the targets of those questions never pointed out my inherent stupidity in a way that made me feel like a slug on a sidewalk. When you're dealing with a guy like Ditka, you've got to always be on your game or you're gonna get clobbered. A full-blown Ditka press conference would have been a thrilling challenge.
And even if he did call me stupid, that's kind of cool, too. Fidel Castro screamed at me once and said I didn't know what I was talking about. I've always worn that dressing-down as a badge of honor.
I also wanted Ditka to run because I knew things would get weird in a big hurry.
Ditka would not be your average candidate. His politics are a mixture of Pennsylvania steel towns and all-male country clubs, and he speaks his mind. You'd never know what might come out of his mouth at any given moment.
When he told reporters that he wouldn't run for Senate, Ditka blurted out a classic line: "You talk about banning smoking. Okay, why don't we ban abortion?" That logic probably works great on the golf course, but the reaction might be a little different during a campaign.
And then there's the background check. Ditka has a more, um, "colorful" past than most modern political candidates. After Blair Hull and Jack Ryan both flamed out because of allegations from years ago, the media would naturally take a close look at Ditka's personal history. It would have made for interesting reading.
Plus, there's no way the sports columnists could resist the urge to write about Ditka's candidacy. In fact, some of them popped off a few days after Ditka's name was floated.
Those sports guys are brutal. No way could I convince a newspaper editor to let me write about a candidate the way they write about players, coaches, and owners.
Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Jay Mariotti wrote last week: "Sorry, but the great state of Illinois cannot be represented in Washington by Senator Limp Ditka." The "limp" crack was a double-entendre reference to Ditka's limpy gait and his endorsement contract with Levitra. Mariotti also referred to Ditka as "Not-So-Iron Mike."
Like I said, no way could I get away with stuff like that.
The Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey also riffed on the Levitra angle. "Expect Mike Tomczak, who was on the receiving end of several Ditka diatribes, to charge that the coach's outburst had to do with ED. Ed McCaskey? 'No,' Tomczak will say. 'Erectile dysfunction.'" Morrissey also noted that Ditka "admits he needs all the help he can get in the hydraulics department."
Brutal doesn't even begin to describe that crack. No wonder Ditka is always in a bad mood around reporters.
Tribune columnist Jimmy Greenfield cynically opined that Republican enthusiasm for a Ditka candidacy was about nothing more than the ex-coach's high name recognition. Greenfield suggested an alternative candidate, Due's deep-dish pepperoni pizza. Pizzeria Due is a landmark Chicago restaurant. The pizza-pie candidate would be "beloved by many and, without a doubt, far more tasty."
"[T]he Republicans should also consider the statue of Michael Jordan in front of the United Center," Greenfield wrote.
I'm telling you, a Ditka candidacy would have been fantastic.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).