Nine years ago the Illinois Republican Party was in a bind.

U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald was vacating his seat. A businessman named Jack Ryan won the Republican primary, but he withdrew from the race several months before the general election.

So who could the GOP turn to?

Knowing that Mike Ditka was a Republican and extremely popular in Illinois, several high profile party members asked the former Chicago Bears coach to challenge Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Ditka ultimately decided not to run, and the eventual Republican nominee, Alan Keyes, lost to Obama in a landslide. The rest is history.

During a recent visit to North Dakota's Oil Patch, Ditka discussed his political beliefs and said that, looking back on the 2004 campaign, he wishes he had challenged Obama.

"Biggest mistake I’ve ever made," Ditka said. "Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House."

Interesting perspective.

Would a man with no political experience, like Ditka, actually have been able to beat one of the smoothest politicians of our generation? It's easy to say no, but then again, it's hard for anyone who isn't from Illinois to understand just how beloved Ditka is in the Land of Lincoln.

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Even President Obama himself has said he was concerned about facing off against Ditka.

"I have to admit I was a little worried,"Obama said of the prospect of running against Da Coach, "because he doesn't lose."

Even though it doesn't appear like Ditka is entirely satisfied with President Obama, it doesn't seem like there's much bad blood between the two men. Two years ago Ditka presented Obama with a No. 85 jersey as the Super Bowl champion 1985 Bears were honored in a ceremony at the White House.

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