The Walter Camp “Distinguished American” award is presented each year to an individual who has utilized his or her talents to attain great success in business, private life or public service and who may have accomplished that which no other has done. He or she may have a record of dedication to mankind that should not pass unrecognized and a life that has been dedicated to the preservation of the American ideal. The recipient need not have participated in football but must be one who understands its lesson of self-denial, cooperation and teamwork, and one who is a person of honesty, integrity and dedication. He or she must be a leader, an innovator, even a pioneer, who has reached a degree of excellence that distinguishes him or her from contemporaries, as well as someone who lives within the principles of Walter Camp.
2016 Distinguished American ~ Mike Ditka, University of Pittsburgh
College Football and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka (University of Pittsburgh) is the 2016 Walter Camp Distinguished American award recipient. “Mike Ditka is an American football icon,” said Walter Camp Foundation president Robert Kauffman. “He has done it all as a player, coach and commentator. More importantly, he cares deeply about the sport of football and helping those who have made it so great.”
A native of Aliquippa, Pa, Ditka attended the University of Pittsburgh where he starred in three sports (football, basketball and baseball). Following his collegiate career, Ditka was selected in the 1961 NFL (Chicago Bears, 1st Round – 5th selection) and AFL (Houston Oilers, 1st Round -8th pick) drafts. A member of both the College Football and Pro Football halls of fame, Ditka was the NFL Rookie of Year, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time All-Pro tight end with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. He was named to both the NFL’s 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was an NFL champion with the 1963 Bears, playing for the venerable George S. Halas. Halas was also honored by the Walter Camp Foundation as its “Distinguished American” in 1980.
Ditka is a three-time Super Bowl champion, playing on the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI team as well as winning as an assistant coach for the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. As a head coach, Ditka led the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX – a 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots. Ditka served as head coach of the Bears for 11 seasons (106-62, .636) and was a two-time NFL Coach of Year (1985 and 1988). He also coached the New Orleans Saints for three years. Ditka is one of just two people to win a NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach.
Following his retirement as head coach, Ditka has been a television commentator and analyst, and has appeared in several sitcom television shows. Most importantly, he has been involved in several philanthropic activities, including The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which focuses on the humanitarian side of post-football related issues, which include coordination of social services to retired NFL players who are in need.
Ditka will be recognized at the Foundation’s 50th annual National Awards Dinner on Saturday, January 14, 2017 in New Haven, CT.