Ad for Mike Ditka Portrait "Era of Iron"
When Mike Ditka took over in 1997 as the New Orleans Saints Head Coach there was plenty of optimism. And why not? Ditka was credited with the success of the Chicago Bears, who had ben one of the most dominating teams of the 1980s. In 11 seasons he had put together 106 wins and a Super Bowl victory and before that he was one of the NFL’s best-ever tight ends. 12 seasons playing for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys ended with a Hall of Fame Induction in 1988. Besides, it couldn’t be any worse than the last few years of Jim Mora …. could it?
Well that was the thought. The 1997 New Orleans Saints season produced 6 wins, which was better than the 3 wins of the Saints 1996 season. But 1998 should no improvement and by 1999 things were steadily getting worse. Iron Mike Ditka, along with just about everyone other than owner Tom Benson, was fired at the end of 1999.
Above we have an ad I found in Game Day Program from 1997. Artist Tuna Seither painted the scene above. Titled “Era of Iron” it has All-Pro Lineman Willie Roaf directly behind Ditka. It’s unclear who the Saints player in the background with #89 is. In 1997 that jersey number belonged to 185 pound receiver Brett Bech so it’s pretty obvious it isn’t him. All I can figure is 89 was Mike Ditka’s number when he played for the Bears and Cowboys so maybe it’s a reference to his playing days, which were far better than his coaching days with the new Orleans Saints.