Chris Doleman, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played 10 seasons for the Vikings, died Tuesday in Atlanta after a two-year bout with brain cancer.
The 58-year-old had surgery to remove a tumor in 2018 and tweeted on Saturday (@chrisdoleman1): “Today is my 2 year anniversary of being a brain cancer survivor! Huge!”
The diagnosis and surgery kept Doleman from attending Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, requiring a five-week hospital stay in Atlanta, but later that year he was able to travel to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony that included former teammate Randy Moss.
That fall, he married his wife, Latresa Doleman, and they traveled to Minnesota together for the team’s Ring of Honor induction ceremony for the late Dennis Green, one of his coaches with the Vikings.
"This is a guy who never missed a practice, never missed a game, this guy was Superman," said former teammate Keith Millard. "If this was going to happen to anybody, this would be the last person you would expect it to happen to. That’s what blows me away."
A three-time first team All-Pro and eight time Pro Bowler as a defensive end, Doleman was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990s. He had 150½ sacks over 232 games and 15 seasons, which included stints with Atlanta and San Francisco.
He was the NFC defensive player of the year in 1992 and led the NFL in sacks six times, including a near-record 21 in 1989.
Doleman was the fourth overall pick in the 1985 draft by the Vikings out of Pittsburgh, and converted from a linebacker in college to a defensive end in the NFL.
After eight seasons in Minnesota, he played for Atlanta in 1994-95, the 49ers in 1996-98 and returned for the 1999 season with the Vikings in a final attempt to get to a Super Bowl.
“Love Dole,” tweeted former Vikings teammate Robert Smith. “So low key but an incredibly gifted player. I remember talking to him when I was a rookie in the Mankato cafeteria. He said so matter of factly one day ‘you look too skinny to be a running back — your arms look weak.’ I just laughed and said “You’ll see.”
Another former teammate, Cris Carter, tweeted: “Kobe Sunday and last night my guy Chris Doleman (we got baptized in the Jordan River together 3 years ago). Condolences to his family. Another great man gone. Today will be tough.”
Doleman a group of Hall of Famers went on a tour of Israel in 2015, after which he said, “The highlight was being baptized in the Jordan River. Everybody can’t say that one.” “In our country, we tear down stadiums when they’re 20 years old. Try having something around that’s 2,000 years old and it’s still here.”
Christopher John Doleman was born Oct. 16, 1961 in Indianapolis, and grew up in York, Pa.
“I think I played every position there was for the York Boys Club,” Doleman said in 2012. “Running back, wide receiver. I was the punter. I was the kicker ...”
But not defensive end. More than a year into his NFL career, he was still a nondescript outside linebacker with half a sack in 19 NFL starts.
“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?’”
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.
His son, Evan, presented him for induction at the Hall. “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 said at the time. “You just knew he could get to the quarterback.”
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 Hall of Famers.
“The reason I went into the Hall of Fame was Chris,” Zimmerman said in 2012. “Every day, I had to come up with new ideas to stop him. The games were easy.”
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.