Mike Ditka impressed with ambition of the Bakken

Former NFL coach Mike Ditka speaks Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Watford City, N.D., at the grand opening event for Canary, an oilfield service company. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Former NFL coach Mike Ditka said he had “no clue” why an oil company would invite him to its grand opening ceremony in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

“I have no idea. My secretary sets everything up,” Ditka said.

But the ESPN analyst who spoke to a crowd of about 100 to mark the opening of Canary’s new facility said he’s glad he came because he is impressed with North Dakota’s oil activity.

“What I’m seeing here is America at its best,” Ditka said. “People who have an idea, a dream, and then they make it work. They have ambition, they have intestinal fortitude and they go get it. That’s what impresses me.”

Canary, formerly known as Frontier Energy Group, held a ribbon cutting Thursday for a new 45,000-square-foot building in Watford City, the largest facility of its kind in the Bakken.

Canary executives, who are based in Denver, said the company wanted to hold a big event in Watford City because that is where the company originated. It began in 1986 as Frontier Wellhead & Supply, growing beyond the Bakken through acquisitions, including Canary Wellhead earlier this year.  Canary now has 28 locations nationwide.

“We wanted to make one heck of a splash here into the Bakken community,” said Don Pfister, Canary’s chief operating officer. “This is the birthplace for us. We’re very dedicated and plan on continuing to stay and work in the Bakken.”

Former NFL coach Mike Ditka signs a football for Kerry Collins and his son, Payton, on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, during a grand opening event for oilfield service company Canary in Watford City, N.D.

Ditka posed for photos with fans and signed autographs on footballs with the Canary logo. He spoke to the crowd for about 30 minutes about lessons he learned during his career.

Ditka described himself as “the luckiest guy in the world.”

“If somebody would have told me 40 years ago they’d pay you to be on TV, I would have said ‘You’re crazy.’ They pay me to be on TV and talk about something I like to talk about, football. That’s almost insane. Sometimes the guys on TV are insane, by the way.”

Ditka, who coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory, made several comments about his conservative politics, including saying he regrets not running against Barack Obama to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.

“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.”

In an interview, Ditka said he thinks the energy program in North Dakota is “fantastic.”

“It’s a boom for this state and for the country… of course, if the politicians don’t screw it up somehow,” he said.

Ditka said North Dakota State University has “a pretty good football program, from what I know,” pronouncing the mascot Bison with an “s,” rather than the local pronunciation of a “z.”

“I don’t get a chance to follow them, but once in a while I’ll watch them on ESPN,” Ditka said.

Football fans from Watford City and surrounding communities came to meet Ditka, including Bron Rathert, who drove from Williston to get a football signed.

Gary Schwartzenberger, a youth football coach in Watford City, got a signed football from Ditka for his seventh-grade son, who is quarterback of his team.

“It’s awesome,” Schwartzenberger said of meeting Ditka. “He’s a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.”

The event also featured performance painter David Garibaldi, who was a finalist on TV show “America’s Got Talent.” Garibaldi painted a series of pieces, including the Statue of Liberty and a worker in a Canary hard hat.

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford congratulated Canary on putting on a great party.

“It’s a joy for me to see this kind of investment in our community,” Sanford said.

Performance painter David Garibaldi paints during the Canary grand-opening event on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Watford City, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

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