Da Return Of Mike Ditka

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NEW ORLEANS: Will the non-retired coach please sit down? Among the NFL coaching legends presiding over the pre-game coin toss stood Mike Ditka. Stately. Dignified. But not done yet. A subtle undercurrent to all the pomp and cheese-en-stance that was Super Bowl XXXI was the story of a career revived. And it wasn't aging funkmaster James Brown's. Ditka confirmed Monday that he will return to the sidelines next season as head coach of the New Orleans Saints. The perennially woeful Saints obviously hope they have landed the Coach Ditka of old, the Ditka who, it was said on Saturday Night Live, could beat the Giants single-handedly, even miniaturized to a height of twelve inches. In ten years, he led Chicago to a 112-68 record, six NFC Central titles, three NFC Championship games and the Bears' only Super Bowl victory. The irony, if you looked for it, was as thick as the exhaust fumes from the ZZ Top motorcycle armada that hung in the poorly-ventilated stadium air. Eleven years ago, in this same Superdome, it was Ditka who coached a charismatic Jim McMahon-led Bears squad to a 46-10 Super Bowl rout over these same Patriots. But the NFL has changed. The little hiking minuteman is gone from the Patriots' helmets. McMahon, sans headband, is now a sideline-pacer for Green Bay. And Ditka, at 57, is five years a TV analyst, a veteran of hip and heart ailments who still has trouble with the fact that Bears refugee Jim Harbaugh turned into a decent quarterback. But the Saints, who never change, will need all of that old magic to fill the Superdome for even one non-January game. This Ditka will clearly have to be full-size.