Football fans don't think of red-faced, gravel-voiced Mike Ditka as a musician. But the former Chicago Bears coach said yesterday that he helped write a country song - he also does a voiceover - about aging NFL heroes tentatively called "Love of the Game."
Ditka's five-minute song, soon to be sold on a CD, is part of an effort by retired NFL athletes to raise money for former players in need.
The players, including Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, also plan to sell leather jackets and vintage jerseys - one will have Sayers' name on the back.
Ditka's song was played for the media yesterday as a dozen former players gathered in a Capitol Hill tavern after a Senate hearing on the players' retirement and disability system.
Ditka "wrote it out on toilet paper with a blue Sharpie," said Jennifer Smith, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps retired players with housing and other necessities.
"They played for the love of the game. Nothing more," begins the song, in which country artist John Vincent is the principal voice.
During an interlude, Ditka is heard doing a raplike voiceover of the names and nicknames of past NFL greats, such as John Unitas, the late Baltimore Colts quarterback. "Sweetness, Campbell, Unitas," Ditka says. "Too Tall, Too Small, Broadway Joe."
The gathering was a chance for players to swap stories about their playing days and discuss the state of the game.
Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff, a Redskins radio broadcaster, recalled a conversation he once had with former Washington wide receiver Michael Westbrook. "Hey, man, you ever play this game?" Huff said Westbrook asked him.
A number of former Baltimore Colts are expected at a charity event tomorrow night honoring former Colts defensive tackle Art Donovan. A portion of the proceeds will go to needy former players.