One would think Jay Hilgenberg doesn’t have a lot of regrets about his NFL career. In truth, he doesn’t. The man was a seven-time Pro Bowl center. He got to play his entire career for one team, went to the playoffs all the time and won a Super Bowl in 1985. It’s likely there is nothing about all of that he would change. Well, almost nothing.
Hilgenberg has a laundry list of stories he could tell about his playing days. About all the fun he had. The problem is most of that fun was behind closed doors and aren’t too family friendly. One thing that he chaffed under from time to time was the somewhat unpredictable coaching of Mike Ditka. For all the good Da Coach did for the team, it wasn’t always fun playing for him.
Hub Arkus of Pro Football Weekly listened as the legend explained why he’s a bit jealous of the players on this team who get to play for Matt Nagy.
“I said one time, when they dissect Matt Nagy’s brain, it’s going to be the shape of a football,” Hilgenberg joked. “It’s fun. He entertains the crowd. It’s must-see Sunday TV going down to Soldier Field.”
“I think these guys have more fun than we [did],” Hilgenberg said. “Actually, I doubt that. They show it. We couldn’t have a smile all the time around Ditka.”
Jay Hilgenberg confirms Nagy is a bit more stable than Ditka
The problem isn’t necessarily that Ditka didn’t let his players have fun. That is totally untrue. His Bears in ’85 alone were considered one of the most fun teams in NFL history. Perhaps the issue that Hilgenberg and others had with him was the guy was inconsistent. One week it would be the fun-loving Ditka and the next week it would be the joyless drill sergeant.
That is why it was never wise to smile around him. One could never know when he was going to be in an ornery mood. Jim McMahon always said he was “tough, but fair.” A lot of players to this day believe he’s the reason they won that championship in ’85 but also the reason they failed to win another. These comments by Hilgenberg only reinforce the complicated feelings they have about Ditka to this day.