Mike Ditka has plenty of good memories of his wins on the football field, but when it comes to his political career he has one big regret — not going after Barack Obama when he had the chance.
Ditka was speaking at an oil company event in Watford City, North Dakota, last week when the topic of his political career came up. The former Chicago Bears coach’s name had long been thrown about in Republican circles as a potential candidate, but he never actually stepped forward to run.
Though Ditka was considered for a number of national and statewide races, it was a national run he passed up in 2004 that still haunts him. That year he had the chance to challenge up-and-coming State Senator Barack Obama for the state’s open US Senate seat, but passed it up.
“Biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Ditka said, according to the Dickinson Press newspaper. “Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House.”
It certainly would have made for an interesting race. Obama was a rising star in the Democratic Party, having just been picked as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Ditka would have carried the legend of his Chicago Bears coaching days and political advocacy, and certainly would have come in with more name recognition.
As it was the Illinois Republican Party picked Alan Keyes for the Senate race, who went on to lose by 27 points.
Ditka, who has described himself as an “ultra-ultra-ultra conservative,” had another chance to enter an election after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, but Pat Quinn got the job instead.
Mike Ditka and Barack Obama did eventually cross paths. In 2011, Obama hosted the 1985 Chicago Bears, who lost out on their White House visit after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Ditka gave the president a Chicago Bears jersey with the name “Obama” and the number 85 on the back.