Commentary

Dean: 'This election into the Hall of Fame has taken me back into time'

San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Fred Dean has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's the text of his speech from the Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Originally Published: August 2, 2008
By ESPN.com

Fred DeanKirby Lee/US PresswireFred Dean helped the San Francisco 49ers win two Super Bowls after being traded from San Diego.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Fred Dean has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's the text of Dean's and presenter Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s speeches from the Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Presenter Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

Thank you so much. I am honored and humbled to be with this great class today and with the other enshrinees that have come back to the Hall of Fame this weekend.

While it cannot be said that Fred Dean's greatness as an NFL player began when he came to the 49ers in 1981, I can say as the owner of the team that the greatness of the 49ers began with Fred Dean's arrival in San Francisco.

The 49ers won just eight games in Bill Walsh's first two seasons as our head coach. But going into 1981, there was a fresh sense of hope. On offense, our young quarterback Joe Montana had taken charge. On defense, a spectacular rookie Ronnie Lott anchored our secondary. But we had yet to get the quality wins that give a team confidence to believe that it can be a champion. And we lacked that explosive pass-rusher who could blow up offenses in those critical moments that determine the outcome of games.

Enter Fred Dean. When Bill Walsh learned that the Chargers were willing to trade Fred, he came to me like a kid with his eye on the niftiest possible Christmas present. You see, Bill had something different in mind for Fred, something downright revolutionary.

He would take this every-down Pro Bowl defensive end and turn him into a dynamic situational pass-rusher. Nothing like this has ever been done before. "Wait until you see what we do with Fred tomorrow," Bill told me the night before Fred's first game with us. Tomorrow, we were playing the dominant Dallas Cowboys at home.

The funny thing was while Bill was telling me how significant Fred would be against Dallas, in that wonderful manipulative way of his, he put out the word that Fred would be a nonfactor. In fact, he told John Madden, who was doing the game, that Fred wouldn't play much, if at all. Oh, did he play. He sacked Danny White three times.

And we won 45-14.

Two weeks later, we played the NFC West powerhouse Rams at home. Fred sacked Pat Haden five times, and we also won that game. Now, you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that something different was going on down on that field with Fred Dean in a 49er uniform. We finished the season 13-3. We beat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.

And we went on to win our first Super Bowl. The amazing thing is Fred was this destructive force on sheer quickness, technique and pure talent. He didn't even lift weights. Fred Dean was truly the natural. You know, Fred never said much. He was a quiet giant. But when the defense needed him to make a big play, we looked to Fred, and he never let us down. Never. No matter what the situation was.

Every player on our second Super Bowl team recognizes that he gave us the shot in the arm we needed to win that championship. Fred was the leader in the way it counted most, with his play. The National Football League has been the great love of my professional life. I was blessed to have had the magnificent good fortune to be represented by an organization of players, coaches and executives that won five Super Bowls. We wouldn't have won five if we hadn't won the first two. I assure you we would not have won the first two if it weren't for Fred Dean.

We look back today, and it comes time to put Fred Dean's spectacular career in historical perspective. First off, he was a pioneer. He was the forefather of the great hybrid jet pass-rushers. He led the way for players like Derrick Thomas, our own Charles Haley, and the great Andre Tippett, who is being inducted today with Fred. Also, this era's Dwight Freeney and Jason Taylor.

Most importantly, Fred now joins my very dear friend Reggie White and Deacon Jones and Lawrence Taylor on that Mount Rushmore of pass-rushers who have earned immortality on this, our sport's, sacred ground.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honor which I carry out with enormous personal pride to present for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the quiet giant, the natural, the great Fred Dean.


Fred Dean

First and foremost, I'd like to say thank God. I give God all the glory and the praise because without him, none of this would be possible. And I'd like to thank Mr. Eddie D for the kind words. And I know the one thing I've learned from Mr. Eddie is that not only does he talk the talk, he walks the walk. And I hope to one day see him in this position of the enshrinees.

I say that because I know a man's heart like his. He's very supportive of my family, and his generosity is beyond belief. He may be a little short in size, but believe me, he is as big as all of this. And to the Hall of Fame family, the executive director, Steve Perry, Joe Horrigan, to Tammy, Judy, Dave, Bill, the board members and all the staff, I just want to say thank you.

Thank you to those who voted for me and the ones that didn't. [Laughter.] I'd like to give a special shout-out to Ira Miller and Nancy Gay. You see, sometimes I know that it takes a woman's touch. And to my fellow enshrinees -- Darrell, Art, Emmitt, Andre, Gary -- I couldn't have selected a better group of guys had I selected them myself.

And I'd like to say to the returning lot of vintage players, well-rounded players, I'm honored to be here, to be with such an elite group of guys is so important to me. And the bottom line is I know I'm not going to cry because I know there's a wager waged somewhere. [Laughter.]

And I did, fellows, I practiced on it. I practiced holding the tears back because I know what's inside. And if I can hold that back, I can achieve a lot of things. And I'd like to say there is so much for me to say. And in saying that, I once heard a preacher say that if I preached too long, somebody grab my coattail, but if you're not close enough, I say, Mr. Steve, would you please say "Amen, Pharaoh," and I know to let your people go. [Laughter.] You see, this election into the Hall of Fame has taken me back into time. I remember people and places that I haven't seen in a long time. And I haven't seen them in a long time, so if you will walk with me for a moment now down memory lane.

You see, God put people in your life that have an impact on it. Both spiritually and physically. For me, Mom and Dad were two of those people. See, I was a little boy, I was born in Arcadia, La. But I grew up in Ruston, La. A time during the change in our country.

Lincoln High School, an all black school, was my first attendance. And, you know, I was small in size. And being small in size, I know that there are a lot of you got bullies around you sometimes. And they want to take advantage of a situation. But I'm here to tell you now, even though I was small, I got into a few incidents. And one day, a coach walked up to me. And his name happened to be Coach Robert Smith. And he said to me, why don't you take some of that energy to the field? And I proceeded to take the energy to the field, as he had asked.

I think the coach liked what he saw, but I don't know that he had other plans for me because those were some pretty big guys. But the bottom line is it all worked out for the best. Thank you, Coach.

From there, I went to Ruston High School, where things changed for me. I met a lot of great people. My coach there was Coach Horace Gary. He was a great man, and through the experience with him, I continued my walk. I'd like to say thank you to all the players at that time, from that high school, also, that were very instrumental in my life because I know that through God's plan, all of us have someone to follow, an example. And for me, at that time, it was my example.

You know, so from there I went to Louisiana Tech. And at Louisiana Tech, it was Coach Lambright. He allowed me to have a twinkle in my eye at that time. And I want to set the record straight, finally. I was a defensive end then, and I wanted to be a defensive end. So I wasn't a linebacker. I was a defensive end. So when I went to the Chargers, after the draft, they had drafted me as a linebacker. But I told "Coach Poto" I didn't want to play linebacker; I wanted to be a defensive end.

You know, when you get used to it, you get used to getting down in the dirt, getting your clothes dirty and wallowing a little bit, it makes everything come out right when you can stand up out of the mud and feel comfortable.

So I said to myself, hmm, I like the dirt. And if I can beat somebody in this dirt, it's going to be a good thing. [Laughter.] And another thing that I knew is that when you tried to talk about me, when I was coming up, I was small in size, but I tell you dirt can't talk about dirt. [Laughter.] So we need to understand that out of all of that I ended up with the San Francisco 49ers.

And to me, that was a dream come true. I could consider it being born by the Chargers but having a renewal life with the 49ers. And being with the 49ers, I found that on the other side of that bridge, on the other side was my rainbow, the true ending of a rainbow. Not financially [laughter], but with all the people there. You see, my richness came from my father, who is in heaven, and it was with you all. I loved it all. I loved the game of football.

I said to myself, I didn't dream about playing football. I didn't dream about being in the Hall of Fame. But I always heard, and we always talked, about the great vintage players that were in the Hall. And it was really an eye-opening thing for me. But yet and still, I didn't plan it. You see, what I found is sometimes in our lives we can sit down and write out our aims and goals, but whether we know it or not, God already has the aim and goal set for you.

And in that direction is the direction in which you will end up going. You probably ask me why do I say that and how do I know? It's because I got a connection with the Father. You see, I look at myself as being the prodigal son. I went astray for a while because Mom and Dad always raised us up to love and appreciate the things that we had and the people surrounding us. I always wondered why, when I'd go out and pick a whole thing of peas and shell them and Mom and Dad would give half of them away. I'd kind of be upset. But it was a lesson to be learned.

It was the giving, because I learned about the rich man who didn't make it. But I can say this: That all of the things that have happened for me and to me, it's for a greater good. The Hall of Fame has been the elite part of a great thing for me. You know what I'm saying? What I did, I went off and left my glasses and I can't see my words. [Laughter as someone hands him a pair of reading glasses.] I think that's going to work.

But I can tell you, it was under the guidance of Coach Bill Walsh and Mr. D and for the Chargers that drafted me. I want to say thank you. … I want to say thank you to Dr. York and Denise DeBartolo York and the 49ers organization and special thanks to Sydney and Shannon.

You know, when you play the game of football for so many years, it becomes a part of your life. And when you leave the game, you really don't understand that you are hanging up your pads for good sometimes. It's a hard transition. But I had to get the understanding that God had something else for me at another plan. Being raised up in that church by Mom and Dad, being disciplined through their actions. Some people would consider it abuse. [Laughter.] But I called it unconditional love.

So I don't want to hold you any longer. And I see that there's no one going to tell me "Amen, Pharaoh." But what I do want to tell you, I want to say to my wife, I love you and I ain't going to cry right now. I want to say to my father, you know the thing I had to say about my father, my father, he was with my brother one day, and you know this is the way he is. And he was going down the road, and evidently they got out. And he was going off the curb, and he fell. You see, my father is 88 years old. And being that age, you know, you kind of get a little frail.

I feel it now, Dad, and I ain't 88. [Laughter.] But my father, he fell, and he said we sat there and I said, "Are you all right, father?" He said yes. I asked him, "Are you hurt?" He said no. But he said, you know what, when I fell, I fell so hard it shook like thunder. And you know I couldn't help but think about the things he used to say to me. The old clichés. It's like, boy, if you ever want to make it on the road to success, get off that dirt road to failure. And my father, with that pavement of success, I feel that I finally got there, Dad.

To my mom, she left us in 2003. But I want to give her a hand clap of praise because my mom carried a big, big, big stick. [Laughter.] Because Dad wouldn't really whup us. I loved Dad for not whupping me, but Mom, she disciplined me.

And I'd like to say to my children, my daughters, oh god, hmm, I'd like to say to all my loved ones, to all those that are here from Louisiana Tech, from Ruston High and from UTS Bible College, my friends, I just want to say I love you. And I want to say to all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love you, too.

So as I go to my seat, I want to say Mason, Frederica, Freida, Woodrow, Mom, Sharon, Cory, David, Coach Bill, Mrs. Smith, I better start naming, brother Johnny, James, I just want to say to you all, Dave, Ms. Jackson, Sister Jackson, I just want to say to you all, I love you and God bless you all. Thank you.

Transcript provided by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.