Football Hall of Fame: Fred Dean Heads Hopefuls

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Football Hall of Fame: Fred Dean Heads Hopefuls
San Francisco 49er fans haven't had a lot to celebrate on the field in recent years, so they have had to content themselves with reliving the franchise's glory years. Fortunately, the Hall of Fame has given them that chance, with Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young being inducted during this decade.

Next weekend, they might get to relive those times again if Fred Dean can overcome the odds and become the 49ers' 14th Hall of Famer. Dean, who was a standout defensive end for the Niners in the early 1980s, is one of 17 finalists for the Hall, and he will find out the day before the Super Bowl whether he gets to join former teammates Montana and Lott, as well as the late coach Bill Walsh.

Dean certainly has the credentials to make it, but he faces some tough competition.

A second-round draft pick by the San Diego Chargers in 1975, the former Louisiana Tech linebacker moved to defensive end as a rookie and immediately put his combination of speed and strength to good use in the NFL.

He played seven seasons in San Diego before joining the 49ers in 1981, when he was at his peak. With the Chargers, he put up unofficial sack totals of 15.5 in 1978, nine in 1979 and 10.5 in 1980, when he was named to his first Pro Bowl and also selected as an All-Pro.

He got even better once he moved upstate to San Francisco. In 1981, he recorded 12 sacks in 11 games and was named All-Pro again. Then, in 1983, he busted out his best season, with 17.5 sacks. He got six of them in one game against the New Orleans Saints, setting an NFL record that stood until Derrick Thomas tallied seven sacks in 1990.

Dean was a key defender on two of the 49ers' Super Bowl teams. He finished with nearly 100 sacks in 141 games over 11 seasons and was named to four Pro Bowls.

That would all seem to be enough to put him in the Hall—if not for so much stiff competition. Dean was a finalist for the first time last year, and he was omitted in favor of Gene Hickerson, Michael Irvin, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli.

This year, Dean is up against 16 similarly qualified players. Two—Darrell Green and Cris Carter—would seem to have very good chances of getting in on their first ballots, while seven others have been finalists at least four times and might break through this year.

The 44 media members who vote on the Hall of Fame must elect at least four people and no more than seven. The past two years resulted in the maximum six people being inducted, and with so many talented players from the 1980s and 1990s now eligible, odds are the voters will send the maximum seven into the Hall for the next few years.

That's good news for Dean, until you look at who he is up against. Aside from Green and Carter, there are eight-time finalist Art Monk, seven-time finalists Ray Guy and Bob Kuechenberg, five-timer Gary Zimmerman and four-time finalists Derrick Thomas and Richard Dent. And there probably will be pressure to induct Paul Tagliabue, who retired last year after 17 years as NFL commissioner.

So while Dean certainly deserves strong consideration, 49er fans might have to wait a little longer before they have something to celebrate again.

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