MIAMI – Chiefs linebacker Terrell Suggs had one childhood role model he really wanted to emulate while growing up in St. Paul in the late ’80s.
“Chris Doleman is one of the reasons I started playing football, and the main reason I played defensive end,” Suggs, the 17-year NFL veteran, said Wednesday after hearing the news that the Vikings Pro Football Hall of Famer had died the night before after a battle with brain cancer.
“Playing pee-wee football, I wore 56 because of Chris. He was a big part of that whole Tony Dungy defense. Wow. What a sad day.”
Doleman ranks fifth on the NFL’s career sacks list with 150½. Suggs, who spent his first 16 seasons with the Ravens, is only three spots back, at 139.
“That’s flattering,” Suggs said. “Hopefully I can be considered to be in such pleasant company.”
Doleman played 15 seasons. The first nine and the final one were with the Vikings. Years 12-14 came in San Francisco, where he posted 38 sacks at ages 35 to 37.
The 49ers, who face the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, also remember Doleman as a guy who wrecked their 1987 season and was the impetus for Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh becoming the first coach to pay left tackles as a premium position.
On Jan. 9, 1988, the 49ers of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were 13-2 and the NFC’s top seed in that strike year. The Vikings were 11-point road underdogs in the divisional round at Candlestick Park.
Final: Vikings 36, 49ers 24.
Doleman had two sacks while obliterating left tackle Bubba Paris, disrupting Walsh’s rhythmic West Coast offense and forcing Montana to the bench in favor of a more mobile Steve Young.
Walsh had seen enough after that game. Knowing he had to pay up to protect Montana’s blind side from the likes of Doleman and Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Walsh moved Steve Wallace to left tackle and signed him to a five-year, $10.7 million contract, which was an unheard of amount of money to pay a lineman at the time.
“I know I always gave him a lot of credit for helping make me a Hall of Famer by having to go against him every day in practice,” former Vikings left tackle Gary Zimmerman said of Doleman. “It was like playing three games every week. And he also was one heck of a mentor to John Randle.”
Randle became a Hall of Famer at defensive tackle, as did the guy he went against every day in practice: left guard Randall McDaniel.
“Chris helped people because he was an all-around great guy and a consummate pro,” Zimmerman said. “He cared for his family, his wife. He wasn’t your typical defensive lineman. He was an upstanding citizen as well as one hell of a player.”