In the end, Doleman a star

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 12:42 PM

The former Viking ranks among the most tenacious and best who ever played at his position, striking fear in his opponents -- and teammates.

It was the fall of 1969, and 8-year-old Christopher John Doleman was in his first season of organized football.

"I think I played every position there was for the York Boys Club in York, Pa.," said Doleman, now 50. "Running back, wide receiver. I was the punter. I was the kicker ..."

What about, you know, right defensive end?

Nah. Even when the Vikings drafted him fourth overall in 1985, Doleman had yet to play the position. More than a year later, he was still a nondescript outside linebacker with half a sack in 19 NFL starts.

It was too soon to call him a bust. But there were some who thought the tips of his toes were on that slippery slope when the Vikings found themselves in need of a right defensive end who could rush the passer. What happened next was one of those fateful turns toward Canton, Ohio.

"We were making a run for the playoffs and, sure enough, Mark Mullaney went down," said Doleman, referring to the Vikings' 12-year veteran and first-round pick in 1975. "So the coaches asked me, 'Can you rush the passer?'"

Can he? You betcha.

Doleman finished with one sack in each of his last three starts, all at right end, in 1986. The Vikings didn't make the playoffs, but for Doleman that final month of the season was a harbinger of a 15-year career that would keep opposing quarterbacks terrified and bag the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.

He'll be enshrined Saturday with his 22-year-old son and presenter, Evan, by his side.

"Doleman is one of those rare guys, maybe one of four or five that I played against -- right there with Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas -- that you had to know exactly where they were," said Hall of Fame quarterback and former Viking Warren Moon. "You just knew he could get to the quarterback."

Doleman played 232 games, missing only two because of injury, and made eight Pro Bowls with three teams: Vikings (1985-93, 1999), Falcons (1994-95) and 49ers (1996-98). A three-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade team, he also finished with 150 1/2 sacks, 44 forced fumbles, 24 fumble recoveries, eight interceptions and two touchdowns.

He ranks fourth in career sacks. Only Smith (200), White (198) and linebacker Kevin Greene (160) had more sacks since they became an official stat in 1982.

Starry cast

The Vikings never made the Super Bowl during Doleman's career. But there were three seasons (1990-92) that featured Doleman and tackle John Randle next to each other on the defensive line and guard Randall McDaniel and tackle Gary Zimmerman on the left side of the offensive line. That's four of the 273 members of the Hall of Fame going against each other every day in practice.

"And if he had stayed healthy, Keith Millard would be in the Hall of Fame with us," said Doleman, referring to the former Vikings defensive tackle.

For seven seasons (1986 to 1992), Zimmerman and Doleman went head to head in practice. Each says the other is the toughest matchup he ever faced during a combined 29 NFL seasons.

"The reason I went into the Hall of Fame was Chris," Zimmerman said. "Every day, I had to come up with new ideas to stop him. The games were easy."

Zimmerman gave Doleman the nickname "Rockhead" early in their Mankato camp battles.

"That rockhead just kept coming," Zimmerman said. "He was a power player. He'd try to knock you off your spot and then do his moves. He hated to lose, and I hated to lose. So every day was an all-out battle."

Doleman, who now lives in Atlanta, played for 12 winning teams and was part of four defenses that ranked No. 1. Two of the tackles he played next to -- Millard in 1989 and the 49ers' Dana Stubblefield in 1997 -- won NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The year Millard won, Doleman had 21 sacks, a franchise mark that stood until Jared Allen had 22 in 2011.

"Chris was ahead of his time," Allen said. "He played a lot lighter than guys did then. He was relentless, explosive off the edge and used his hands so well. He was so long and could bend like no other. Great leverage, which is what football is all about."

From 1981 to 1984, Doleman played outside linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh. His 25 sacks ranked third in school history when he left and stand sixth-best today. His pursuit of quarterbacks continued at a high level when he was moved to defensive end permanently by the Vikings in 1987.

Nullifying the Niners

In 12 starts during the strike season of 1987, Doleman had 11 sacks and earned his first All-Pro honor. He also had a signature playoff game that was instrumental in fattening the bank accounts of NFL left tackles for generations to come.

On Jan. 9, 1988, 49ers coach Bill Walsh had the NFC's No. 1 seed, a 13-2 team led by quarterback Joe Montana and receiver Jerry Rice, who had set an NFL record with 22 touchdown receptions. But that Hall of Fame trio and their rhythmic passing attack didn't have an answer for Doleman's pass-rushing skills n that day.

Doleman punished left tackle Bubba Paris, sacking Montana twice and knocking him down consistently throughout a 36-24 upset.

"Chris dominated that day," said Paul Wiggin, himself a former defensive end and now a consultant for the Vikings. "It was just one of those days that, like the good Lord says, 'It's your day.'"

Walsh had seen enough. Tired of having Super Bowl plans ruined by edge rushers such as Lawrence Taylor and Doleman, he changed the perception of and the market value for "blind side" pass protectors. He replaced Paris with Steve Wallace, who was given a five-year, $10.7 million deal. That was unheard of for left tackles at the time, but the 49ers also won the Super Bowl the next season.

In 1998, while playing for the 49ers, Doleman had 15 sacks -- his 10th double-digit total and the second-highest of his career -- at age 37. He retired but came back to rejoin the Vikings two games into the 1999 season. In 12 starts in his final season, he finished with eight sacks.

"Chris didn't care who he was playing against," Randle said. "He was sure he was going to show the guy for 60 minutes, 'I'm Chris Doleman and I'm going to kill you.'"

Wiggin played with Hall of Famers, such as Jim Brown, and coached Hall of Famers. He said they all share a natural gift that just needs the right opportunity. For Doleman, it was that switch to defensive end.

"I learned a lot of things in coaching Chris," Wiggin said. "But the most important thing was if you've got a goose that lays golden eggs, you don't mess with the goose."

  • 2012 NFL HALL OF FAME CHRIS DOLEMAN'S INDUCTION

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 8 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
UCF 45 FINAL
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
UMBC 39 FINAL
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
NJIT 71
TCU 70 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
USC 74 FINAL
UCLA 85
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
UNLV 58
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 98 FINAL
Hawaii 90
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close