It's a scene that would silence even ESPN know-it-all analyst Joe Theismann. Mike Ditka, wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth, lashed to a stretcher as he screams obscenities at the taunting crowd. What could Theismann say? "Right now, Paul, what Mike Ditka is thinking is, 'Hey, I've got to get my guys back into the game. I've got to show them I care.'"
What Ditka is really doing late in the third quarter of the Browns-Saints contest is checking into the Dick Vermeil hotel of emotional breakdown. And no wonder. Iron Mike thought he had this one in the bag. His Saints club has lost 5 in a row, but 4 of those came down to the wire. Ricky "The Draft and a Half" Williams was finally on the mend and Browns uber-backer Jamir Miller was out with a slight shoulder separation.
Instead, the bombastic coach seethes as his team throws three early interceptions, silencing the crowd and spotting Cleveland a quick 17-0 lead. Williams, cut in a pre-game shaving accident, plays sparingly. He spends the second half staring at the turf and dreaming up new ways to punish his agent for his incentive-heavy contract.
Ditka doesn't help matters. Perhaps the only thing shorter than his temper is his memory. The coach mixes up his Billy Joes throughout the first half, sending in first Tolliver then the injured Hobert until both QBs go out with concussions. Mike spends halftime arranging a trade (one SuperBowl ring, a Hall of Fame bust, and the entire 2002 draft) to lure retired NFL quarterback Archie Manning back to the Saints for one game. The deal is typical Ditka. Which is to say, it was ill-advised. Archie Manning may be rightfully loved in New Orleans, but the 50- year-old QB has never seen a zone blitz and hadn't taken a snap since 1984.
Another thing Manning didn't see: Marquis Smith blitzing from his blind side on 3rd and long. Smith strips the ball and chases it down in the end zone for another TD, setting off one of Mike Ditka's Patented Sideline Tirades™. He spits on fans, he spits on players, he spits on the annoying headset-wire-handler-guy. He swears, hurls Gatorade on taunting fans, and beats the punter with his shoe. Finally, Ditka becomes so incensed that he grabs one of the parabolic boom mikes, sticks his face right in it, and yells "F*** YOU!" so loud that it ruptures ear drums, blows ceiling tiles off the SuperDome, and sets off car alarms a mile and a half away.
Saints GM Bill Kuharich has seen enough. Before Ditka can bash the boom mike on the poor handler's head, six New Orleans cops wrestle the out of control coach to the turf. Unable to reach his coach, Kuharich has the SuperDome scoreboard staff flash a simple message: "Mike. You're Fired! Bill."
The crowd goes berserk. It takes half the New Orleans police force and a tear gas barrage to clear the field of rampaging fans. Ditka, still struggling and strapped to a backboard stretcher, snarls and twists like an out of control animal. The Browns win by a forfeit (no score).
And that's the way I see it.