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Football legend Mike Ditka hospitalized for heart attack near his Florida home

In this Oct. 27, 2009 file photo, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka speaks at a news conference in Chicago.
In this Oct. 27, 2009 file photo, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka speaks at a news conference in Chicago. ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Iron Mike” Ditka, the storied Chicago Bears coach who once suffered a heart attack while coaching 30 years ago, had another one Wednesday while playing golf in Naples.

But reports say Ditka, now 79, has good prospects to survive this heart attack. He remained hospitalized Saturday morning near his Naples home. He could be going home early next week where he will work on rehab, according to Chicago’s WGN 9.

“He’s Iron Mike ... .what would you expect?” former football player and now motivational speaker Jarrett Payton, 37, said on Twitter. Payton is the son of Walter Payton, one of Ditka’s greatest players who helped guide the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl XX victory in 1985. The senior Payton died in 1999 at 45 of a rare liver disease.

In 1988, Ditka returned to work 11 days after suffering a heart attack. He was the head football coach for the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 1999. In 2012, he had a minor stroke.

Before Ditka was a coach, he was on the field as a tight end with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s. Ditka’s touchdown reception in Super Bowl VI helped catapult the Cowboys over the Miami Dolphins’ 1971 team in the January 1972 championship game in New Orleans. The feat would make Ditka the only head coach in Super Bowl history to have scored a touchdown in a Super Bowl as a player.

Dolphins’ head coach Don Shula would extract revenge by guiding his Dolphins to a perfect season later that year, winning Super Bowl VII in Los Angles in January 1973.

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For years, Ditka has had a home in Naples and has lent his name to the annual Mike Ditka and Jim Hart Celebrity Golf Invitational that is held pairings party. The golf tournament has served as a benefit the Foundation for the Immokalee Child Care Center.

“It’s about the kids, nothing else,” Ditka told the Naples Daily News during the 17th annual tournament in 2016.

In 1988, the same year as his first heart attack, he was the first tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.

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