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 on 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

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Philadelphia 24 FINAL
Washington 27
San Diego 35 1st OT
San Francisco 35
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
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Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
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Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
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Oakland
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Dallas
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Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 99 FINAL
New York 90
Portland 114 FINAL
New Orleans 88
Utah 86 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Atlanta 104 FINAL
Houston 97
San Antonio 93 FINAL
Dallas 99
Indiana 73 FINAL
Denver 76
Milwaukee 70 3rd Qtr 6:23
LA Clippers 63
Arizona 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Colorado 5 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Philadelphia 7 FINAL
Toronto 4
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Montreal 4
Washington 4 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Tampa Bay 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Florida 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
NY Rangers 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Chicago 2 FINAL(SO)
Columbus 3
Nashville 6 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 5
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Vancouver 2
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San Jose 1
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Michigan 51
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Houston 63
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Illinois 62
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Kansas 96
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Memphis 78
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Northwestern 67
Delaware State 70 FINAL
Oregon 83
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UC Davis 81 FINAL
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UC Riverside 78
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Coll of Charleston 68
USC Upstate 53 FINAL
Miss State 51
NC Central 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 60
Illinois State 77 FINAL
Murray State 89
Louisiana 85 FINAL
Northwestern St 89
Oakland 77 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
Detroit 55 FINAL
Rhode Island 69
Presbyterian 60 FINAL
UT Martin 77
Monmouth 74 FINAL
Wagner 66
Southern U 39 FINAL
Wyoming 57
Iowa State 83 FINAL
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Wake Forest 50 FINAL
Florida 63
High Point 80 FINAL
James Madison 71
Texas Southern 71 FINAL
Michigan State 64
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Sacred Heart 73
Northeastern 78 FINAL
Santa Clara 72
Huston-Tillotson 56 FINAL
Texas State 90
Purdue 63 FINAL
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Sam Houston St 61
Xavier 88 FINAL
Auburn 89
Bluffton 53 FINAL
Akron 92
NJIT 84 FINAL
Central Conn St 76
Hofstra 77 FINAL
Columbia 82
Boston Univ 62 FINAL
Dayton 78
Iona 81 FINAL
George Mason 86
Valparaiso 75 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 72
Texas A&M 64 FINAL
Kansas State 71
Morgan State 69 FINAL
Manhattan 73
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Marist 58
East Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 66
Richmond 65 FINAL
Pepperdine 63
La Salle 67 FINAL
Towson 53
Incarnate Word 110 FINAL
UMKC 104
CS-Bakersfield 59 FINAL
Idaho State 50
Iowa 44 FINAL
Northern Iowa 56
Milwaukee 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 61
Long Beach State 68 FINAL
Texas 78
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TCU 88
SE Missouri St 67 FINAL
Arkansas 85
Lehigh 84 FINAL
Arizona State 81
New Mexico 69 FINAL
New Mexico St 67
Oklahoma 67 FINAL
Washington 69
Utah Valley U 61 FINAL
Weber State 73
Jacksonville St 60 FINAL
Northern Colorado 69
St Edwards 55 FINAL
Grand Canyon 81
NC State 69 FINAL
West Virginia 83
TX A&M-CC 75 FINAL
CS-Northridge 68
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Gonzaga 62
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Pacific 71
Montana State 60 FINAL
Portland 87
Ball State 47 2nd Half 5:01
San Diego St 63
South Dakota St 61 2nd Half 0:26
Utah State 59
Stanford 35 2nd Half
BYU 36
Utah 8 1st Half 14:18
UNLV 3
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 14 3rd Qtr 3:47
Bowling Green 27
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Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
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Wright State 80
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Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
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FIU 69 FINAL
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Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
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ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Charleston Southern 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 80
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Indiana State 64 FINAL
SMU 55
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Purdue 65
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Texas Tech 64
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SE Louisiana 69
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Jackson State 62
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Minnesota 74
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Montana State 61 FINAL
Washington St 82
Marshall 56 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 69
Morgan State 40 FINAL
Chattanooga 55
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Harvard 67
Furman 51 FINAL
(15) Georgia 58
(18) Michigan State 65 FINAL
(9) Baylor 84
Ohio U 52 FINAL
Massachusetts 59
Prairie View 48 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 86
Toledo 64 FINAL
Southern Ill 48
High Point 57 FINAL
(12) Nebraska 83
Winthrop 20 FINAL
Wichita State 66
William Jewell 59 FINAL
UMKC 51
Louisiana Tech 52 FINAL
Utah 67
Southern Utah 51 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
Hawaii 85 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 76
San Jose St 62 FINAL
San Francisco 77
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San Diego State 54
Norfolk State 36 FINAL
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Saint Peters 49 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 59
Arizona 60 FINAL
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Northwestern 92 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 44
Oral Roberts 52 FINAL
Wisconsin 70
Florida Atlantic 44 FINAL
New Mexico St 57
La Salle 76 FINAL
Georgia State 68
(16) Oregon State 73 FINAL
Nevada 50
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
Villanova 49
Delaware 59 FINAL
Cincinnati 67
Troy 75 FINAL
Tennessee St 71
Saint Louis 68 FINAL
Utah Valley U 66
Washington 74 FINAL
UC-Riverside 71
Pacific 43 FINAL
Long Beach St 53
Old Dominion 69 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Austin Peay 62 FINAL
Montana 83
Lewis-Clark State 48 FINAL
Idaho 74
(21) Miss State 66 2nd Half 5:41
Illinois-Chicago 30
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