In February of 1986, Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka was about as hot a property as you could find to pitch products on TV. The previous month, his Bears team dismantled the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl XX and fans basked in the glow of the certainty that this was the beginning of a Bears championship dynasty.
As the colorful, well-coiffed leader of that dynasty, Ditka became America’s pitchman. Look, there’s Mike selling soup! Look, there’s Mike selling underwear!
American Express also wanted a little of Ditka’s magic to boost their brand, and so they hired him to do a commercial for their “Do You Know Me” series back in february 1986. The setting for the shoot was the Brookfield Zoo on a day, according to the February 1986 Landmark (the paper was coming out monthly at the time), the wind chill factor hit 40-below zero.
Wearing a fur-collared overcoat, Da Coach flung fish to a bear at the old Bear Grotto. Landmark photographer Jerry Luterman was on the scene to record the event. The commercial was supposed to air in March of 1986. Couldn’t find it on YouTube. If anyone stumbles across it, feel free to post the link.
Anyway, everyone knows how the story ended. Da Coach led the talent-laden Bears to a series of Super Bowl championships (Walter Payton scored several touchdowns in those games, taking the sting out of having missed out during Super Bowl XX) and later retired as Bears coach, with the team’s ownership showering him with graditude and expressions of warm admiration.
Oh, wait …