Ditka returning to San Francisco with MNF

One of Mike Ditka's most memorable reactions at Candlestick Park was throwing a wad of chewing gum into the crowd while storming off the field as head coach of the Chicago Bears. Who knows what will be coming out of Ditka's mouth this time when he returns to the home of the 49ers as a Monday Night Football analyst for San Francisco's season opener against the Arizona Cardinals?

The Hall of Fame player/coach, now an ESPN analyst, will be part of the crew that will entertain fans and report on the game from the broadcast booth. Ditka will be joined upstairs at Monster Park by Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic - hosts of ESPN radio's Mike & Mike in the Morning show - and sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein.

The Sept. 10 game will be the nightcap of ESPN's season kickoff doubleheader with an unusually late 7:15 p.m. starting time on the West Coast. The 49ers/Cardinals clash will be preceded by an AFC North battle between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

"ESPN's Monday Night Football doubleheader will provide an exclamation point to the opening weekend of the NFL season," said Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president of remote and studio production. "Mike and Mike have such great chemistry together on ESPN Radio, and that will translate well to viewers in our second game, especially with the addition of Ditka. All three are passionate about the NFL, and each offers a unique perspective of the game – Greenberg as a fan, Golic as a former player and Ditka as a Hall of Fame player and coach."

The three Mikes will be making their debut in the MNF booth, though Greenberg and Golic have been ESPN's top commentator team for Arena Football League games this season, including the upcoming ArenaBowl XXI in New Orleans on July 29.

Ditka has been with ESPN since 2004 as a NFL studio analyst. He has appeared on a variety of programs, including Sunday NFL Countown, Monday Night Countdown, Monday Quarterback on ESPNEWS and The NFL Huddle on ESPN Radio. No stranger to big NFL games, Ditka has three rings in six career Super Bowl appearances as both a player and coach. He also coached in the highest-rated and one of the most memorable games in MNF history on Dec. 2, 1985, as the Miami Dolphins beat his then-undefeated Bears, 38-24, spoiling Chicago's chances of an undefeated season.

That was the season after Ditka led the Bears into the playoffs for the first time as their coach, a postseason run that was ended by the 49ers during San Francisco's 23-0 blanking of the Bears in the 1984 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers went on to complete one of the most dominating championship runs in NFL history two weeks later with a rout of Miami in Super Bowl XIX.

But a rivalry had been born between Ditka's Bears and the mid-dynasty 49ers that would provide the NFL with some colorful entertainment - not to mention consequential games - over the next seven seasons before Ditka stepped down as Bears coach following the 1992 season.

As two of the NFL's glamour teams, the Bears and 49ers met before a Monday night national television audience three times during that span - with the Niners embarrassing Ditka's team twice in December showdowns at Candlestick - 41-0 in 1987 and 52-14 in 1991. The 49ers also hung a season-ending 26-0 shutout on Ditka's Bears on their way to another Super Bowl victory in 1989.

Perhaps the most memorable of the Monday night encounters was the Chicago's 10-9 victory in a defensive battle at midseason that sent the 49ers into a tailspin of three losses in four games and helped the Bears in their quest to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs. But the 49ers rebounded from that dismal stretch to win four of their final five games, then upset the heavily-favored Bears 28-3 in the NFC Championship Game amid frigid conditions at Chicago's Soldier Field.

Though those now are games and teams of yesteryear, don't be surprised to hear Ditka rekindle some of the memories in September while a different kind of 49ers rivalry is being fought on the field below him.

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