49ers pass rusher and Hall of Famer Fred Dean dies at 68

Liz Roscher
·4-min read

Fred Dean, the Hall of Fame defensive end for the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers, has died at age 68. The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Dean’s passing on Thursday morning.

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Fred Dean. He exemplified many of the values learned from this great game — commitment, integrity, courage — over the course of his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Fred’s wife, Pam, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Fred’s memory.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 29: Fred Dean #74 of the San Francisco 49ers in action against the New York Giants during an NFL football game November 29, 1981 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Dean played for the 49ers from 1981-85. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Fred Dean in action with the 49ers against the New York Giants during a game on Nov. 29, 1981, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

No official cause of death has been announced, but his former 49ers teammate Dwight Hicks posted on Facebook last week that Dean had been admitted to the hospital and was on a ventilator due to the coronavirus.

“I just learned that my 49er teammate Fred Dean was taken to the hospital and is on a ventilator in intensive care,” Hicks wrote, “I’m sending healing light to Fred, his wife Pam, and his family. I trust you all are taken [sic] this virus seriously. Be well and stay safe.”

Start with Chargers, success with Niners

Dean, a Louisiana native, was drafted out of Louisiana Tech in 1975. The Chargers selected him with the 33rd overall pick, and he spent more than six seasons in San Diego. He was a big part of the Chargers making it to the playoffs in 1979 and 1980, racking up sacks and helping the Chargers allow fewer points than nearly every other team.

Dean was instrumental with the Chargers’ defense, something the team wouldn’t learn until after it traded him to the 49ers in 1981. San Diego’s unit never recovered while the Niners, who were 3-2 when they acquired Dean, won 13 of their final 14 games. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and helped lead San Francisco to its first Super Bowl victory.

“Fred was the biggest catalyst by far,” defensive tackle Jim Stuckey told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. “Until we got Fred — I mean, he elevated everyone else’s game and could just destroy people. It changed up an offensive game plan. For us to be able to get him, it set us apart. He was a game changer.”

‘The true ending of the rainbow’

Dean would play for the Niners for another four seasons, posting a career-high 17.5 sacks in 1983 and winning another Super Bowl in 1984. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, two times named an All-Pro, and characterized as a terror to quarterbacks. At a listed height and weight of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Dean was considered light even in the 1970s and 1980s. But no one could contain his explosiveness.

Dean famously didn’t lift weights. Instead, he smoked cigarettes in the weight room at Candlestick Park. As David Lombardi of The Athletic said, it was a different time.

After an 11-year career, Dean retired following the 1985 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, and is also a member of the Chargers and 49ers halls of fame.

In his HOF induction speech in Canton, Dean credited the Chargers and the 49ers for making him the player he was — though he didn’t find his destiny until he was traded to the Niners.

“I could consider it being born by the Chargers, but having a renewal of life with the 49ers,” Dean said during his speech. “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, but with all the people there.”

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