Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka suffered a mild heart attack yesterday that put him in serious condition and intensive care at Lake Forest (Ill.) Hospital, where a cardiologist said that, although the coach should recover completely, he is expected to remain in the hospital for at least the next seven days.
Ditka, however, after learning he was out of immediate danger, said he would be back at work in "48 hours."
Ditka, 49, was alert and conscious while being treated by doctors, including staff cardiologist Jay Alexander. There was no failure of the heart's ability to pump blood, Alexander said, adding that Ditka was given medicine for a blocked artery.
"It's too soon to say when he will be back and resuming his duties," said Alexander, who also said the coach would recover completely, "barring anything unforseen." By midafternoon, Ditka was listed in stable condition, but Alexander wanted Ditka to remain in the hospital until the extent of the blockage was determined.
Bears President Mike McCaskey, who visited Ditka and described him as being "in good spirits," said it would be decided later in the week which assistant coach would direct the Bears Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Soldier Field.
If it was up to Ditka, he'd be on the sideline for that game. Asked if he would rule out Ditka appearing on the sideline Sunday, Alexander initially said, "Knowing him, nothing is safe to say."
In fact, Ditka first suffered chest pains on Tuesday, but wouldn't go to the hospital at the suggestion of assistant coaches. And he steadfastly refused again yesterday when the pains recurred; his assistants persisted until he relented. "He was fighting us; not necessarily fighting us, but discouraging us from going to get help," assistant coach Johnny Roland said. "But you could tell he was obviously in dire need of help."
Roland and fellow assistants Steve Kazor and scout Ken Geiger drove Ditka from Halas Hall to Lake Forest Hospital at about 9:30 a.m. (EST). Ditka's wife, Diana, joined him as he was being treated. Eventually, Ditka realized it was a good thing his assistants had been so insistent.
"He felt a little rueful about all this. He was beginning to realize that there was a good reason to be brought to the hospital . . . He was remarking how life takes some amazing turns," McCaskey said.
Ditka had just finished his morning exercises and was getting dressed to make an appearance at a rally for presidential candidate George Bush at a nearby high school when he suffered chest pains for the second straight day.
Ditka, who sometimes appears to have more emotional outbursts in one game than most coaches do in a career, may be able to watch the game on television. "We'll have to balance the anxiety and stress level that'll come from watching the game versus not watching the game," Alexander said.
The Bears won't be unprepared for the game. Ditka had almost completed this week's game plan and he had already turned over much of the play-calling duties to assistant coaches Vince Tobin (defensive coordinator) and Greg Landry (quarterbacks coach).
"We're left in very capable hands," safety Dave Duerson said. "We're a bunch of professionals and we know what our jobs are. Certainly, though, Mike's going to be in the back of our minds and Sunday will be for him."
Ditka, who played 12 years for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, was an assistant to Tom Landry for nine years before being named head coach of the Bears in 1982, hand-picked by owner George Halas.
After leading the Bears to the Super Bowl in 1985, Ditka became one of the most beloved sports figures in Chicago, and yesterday an entire city fretted over his well-being. Chicago television programming was interrupted while Ditka's situation was monitored live.