Mark Bennett’s delightful story of how his son acquired Barry Larkin’s autograph reminded me of how Number Two son scored the signature of Mike Ditka.
It was back in the days before sports stars began charging kids who wanted them to sign a program. Number Two was 9 years old and our Number One Bears fan in training. My Best Friend’s colleague had a student from Rensselaer where the Bears held pre-season training.
Making good on a promise, the student phoned to alert colleague Harry to the date the Bears would scrimmage the College All Stars. Harry called my BF and there was no way they could leave Number Two son behind — especially not when there was a chance he might see his hero, Ditka.
Otto Graham was coaching the All Stars and set the plays. Graham’s team included Bob Hayes, billed as “the world’s fastest man” and future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. Graham called a pass play, first and 10 from the 50 yard line. Staubach faded back and threw to Hayes who was streaking toward the goal with Richie Petitbon, the Bears defensive back, twisting and turning and matching him step for step running almost backward.
Harry and my BF stood in back of the end zone, each holding one of Number Two’s hands. But when it became apparent that the play — and players — were headed right for them, they both dropped his hands and sprinted for safety.
When the dust cleared, Number Two was nowhere in sight. My BF hit the panic button. “How do I explain to Liz that I lost our kid?” he moaned.
So Harry headed counterclockwise and my BF headed clockwise around the field, figuring one or the other would find the lost boy. They found each other in the far end zone and began to wonder what next.
As they talked it over, they heard a childish giggle from the Bears bench and broke through the crowd to see Number Two perched on Ditka’s lap and a good time being had by all. Ditka had injured his knee, so was sidelined that day with his leg elevated and Number Two was careful to use his good leg.
He had the foresight to carry Ditka’s game card in his pocket and Ditka signed it for him. He had the card for years and his wife finally had it framed for him. The last time I saw it, it held a prominent place on his desk.
Both Hayes and Staubach went on to star with the Dallas Cowboys. Petitbon played for the Bears, Rams and Redskins, but somehow never got equal billing as the world’s fastest runner — going backward.
Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.