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Original Issue

Ironed-Out Mike

During a postfiring media blitz, Mike Ditka proved he could be flat on three networks

Of course, Mike Ditka did not go quietly. After being fired as coach of the Chicago Bears, he went on CNN's Larry King Live on Friday, on CBS's The NFL Today on Saturday and on NBC's NFL Live on Sunday. Every time you looked up, Ditka was defending his life, and all of television clamored to be the first to air his testimony live.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, presenting The Amy Fisher Story starring Mike Ditka.

It's interesting that Ditka finds the media revolting one moment and revitalizing the next. So over the weekend, all made up with nowhere to go, a press-happy Ditka had a message to spread—have attitude, will relocate—and he spread it to all comers with cameras.

We got to see the full Ditka fashion wardrobe (sweater on CNN, sweatshirt on CBS, coat and tie on NBC), and we got to hear Ditka say very little. He gave us a bit of that tough-guy bluster for effect—when the TV lights go off, Ditka's probably just another Jonas Salk—but he didn't give us any tough insights into events past or future.

When asked on CNN who might win a particular playoff game, Ditka responded, "I don't want to get into that. They're all good teams."

When asked on CBS if NFL owners were trying to exercise more control over football decisions than ever, he answered, "To say what I think on the air wouldn't really help anything."

When asked on NBC how badly he wanted to coach again, he said, "I think a lot depends on what happens."

It wasn't clear whether Ditka was positioning himself for a coaching spot, a commentating slot or a diplomatic post. Most likely, if Ditka stays out of coaching awhile, he'll be a TV analyst. (Rule No. 1 of sports television: Retire your coach's sweater by midday; refit yourself into a network blazer by midnight. Rule No. 2 of sports television: Call NBC Sports first; it's just a halfway house for coaches-in-waiting.)

Thus once again Ditka will be thrust upon a somewhat unwilling public. Sure, some Bear fans are mourning the fact that they lost their high-profile coach. Others of us, meanwhile, are mourning the fact that we've gained a low-wattage broadcaster. And once again Ditka will decide which way to go with his act—and it is a less-than-genuine act, you know—and how best to lobby for another football job while working his network gig.

Actually, if Ditka is TV-bound, one must hope he does go to NBC Sports, which loses audio more often than all the other networks combined. The fact is, Ditka's a pretty desirable football coach (as his won-lost record indicates) and a pretty disingenuous football commentator (as his recent video record indicates). Fans and viewers would be best served if he stayed in the NFL. On the sideline, he's good theater; in the studio, he's just a sideshow.