Bears legend Mike Ditka was scheduled tobe at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park at 6 p.m. last Wednesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Long before the man some call “Da Coach” walked through the doors, Binny’s officials had the rough task of turning people away after the store reached its limit of 300 people who snaked through the aisles of booze to wait for his signature. Some waited six hours.
Ditka, who coached the Bears to the Super Bowl title in 1985, still appreciates being able to draw a big crowd.
“Am I surprised? I’m absolutely surprised and humbled,” Ditka said. “I don’t understand it, but, hey, I’m an old man and I need the money. We have to sell this [Ditka brand] wine.’’
When it was pointed out to him that not many old men could generate a crowd like that, Ditka retorted “Oh yeah — Bill Clinton can.”
Oak Lawn resident Liz O’Neill stood in line for a couple of hours to get Ditka’s autograph five days before the Bears retired his number in a ceremony at Soldier Field.
“Growing up, he was like a national hero at our house,” O’Neill said. “He’s an institution in Chicago. He’s the real deal. He was telling us in line ‘come on guys, pick it up.’ I thought that was real cute.”
O’Neill had Ditka sign a huge Bear head that she had to bring in a suitcase.
“I bought it at a garage sale about 10 years ago,’’ she said. ‘’It cost about $30. My old boss was trying to get rid of her husband’s man-cave stuff and asked me if I wanted it and I said ‘yeah — this would be great for my dad.’ ’’
Her father, Pete, has passed on and she kept the Bears head and has autographs from Ditka on one side and Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton on the other side of it.
And who would have guessed that the first guy in line for Ditka’s scribbles would be a man from Green Bay Packer country?
Milwaukee’s Dave Allen waited six hours to have Ditka sign several canvas prints of Ditka flipping off a photographer.
“I’m a football fan, I don’t care who it is,” Allen said. “I like Ditka because he’s a classy guy and a class act. I’ve met many [celebrities] before — baseball players, football players — and there is no one like him. I don’t want to name names but [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers was cool when he was a backup quarterback. Now he’s got the big head and the big money.”
Speaking of big money, Ditka’s appearance raised close to $15,000 for the Christmas Without Cancer charity. For more information on the charity, see Page 3.