The quintessential meat-and-potatoes man is more likely to be eating chicken and fish these days, but it still isn't safe to make any bonehead plays with Mike Ditka back on the prowl.

Because the forces that made the Chicago Bears coach one of pro football's most driven - not to mention feared - sideline tyrants are resurfacing less than two months after he was stricken by a heart attack."I'm going to make it," said Ditka in a recent interview, responding to concerns raised by people who saw his nationally televised tantrum against the Minnesota Vikings in the Bears' last regular-season contest.

"And if I don't," he added, the old defiance reappearing in his voice, "then I'll tell you what, it's going to be earth-shattering, with the coach dying on the sideline."

Ditka, however, insists he feels great and few people would doubt him.

"He's getting back to his old style," said guard Tom Thayer. "Initially, the first couple of weeks back, he was pretty low key. But as the weeks progress, he's getting back into his old style.

"I think," added Thayer, "that he thinks he's immortal again."

Some things, Ditka vows, have changed irrevocably since he suffered a mild heart attack in the early morning Nov. 2 - shortly after an exercise routine that included heavy weightlifting, 250 situps, windsprints and long distance runs.

Ditka has cut his exercise regimen slightly and his cholesterol level from 215 milligrams per decileter to around 150, says his cardiologist, Dr. Jay Alexander.

He is 10 pounds lighter, eschews red meat, eats oatmeal for breakfast and takes everything from turkey sandwiches to mashed potatoes without benefit of butter, dressing or gravy. Cigars, once a passion, are now passe.

But don't make the mistake of thinking this is an entirely new Ditka.

That much should have been clear during the contest at Minnesota - a game in which the already playoff-bound Bears stood little to gain and played like it during the first half.

When rookie defender Lemuel Stinson got called for roughing the punter, Ditka forgot his self-imposed restraint, raced up the sideline to where Stinson was coming off the field and blistered the youngster.

Though that was the first time since the heart attack he blasted anyone on the team in public, he apparently returned to form at least one game earlier, during a Dec. 11 game against the Detroit Lions that would clinch Chicago's fifth consecutive NFC Central Division championship.

"I got weak because I was yelling at 'em so hard at halftime," Ditka said. "I've tried to stay positive. That's the only time I got negative at all.

"And after I did, I felt bad. When I walked out of the locker room, I said, `No matter what happens ... I'm not gonna say another word. And I didn't."

So while Ditka's rage still slips through at times, he is at least able now to temper it with some restraint.

"I'm going to work as hard as I can; I'm going to try to do the right things," he said. "But I'm just not ranting and raving, that;s alkl there is to it."

Or his his wife, Diana, puts it: "It's been 71/2 weeks since the heart attack and he's lost his temper once or twice. I think that's pretty good."