Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011
By John Mullin
Seeing Richard Dent standing at a Halas Hall podium Wednesday, to honor his selection last weekend as a member of the Hall of Fame, was somehow personal. And it should be.
It was obviously personal for Richard, who suffered through slights the more than half-dozen rejections he received in the form of not receiving enough votes for induction. I was very, very thirsty for it, the Colonel acknowledged, as he seemed to reflect that he was the first Hall of Fame selectee from Tennessee State, a small school with a distinguished history of turning out NFL-grade players over its more than 100 years.
I dont take that lightly, Richard said, noting that he is leaning toward his college coach, Joe Gilliam Sr., to be his presenter in Canton next August. Of course, hell have to work that out with daughter Mary, a student at Valparaiso who also would like the honor of presenting her Dad.
Dent never took anything lightly about his craft, and thats part of what was running through thoughts Wednesday. One of the most memorable stories Ive had the pleasure of doing was a two-part package on the art of the pass rush, which was done nearly a couple decades ago with Richard sitting down over a long period of time and describing in intricate detail how he did what he did.
He described foot angles (his and offensive linemens), leverage, weight transfer, hands all of the elements that went into his becoming one of footballs all-time greats at his craft, with 137.5 sacks.
These years later you appreciate even more what defines greatness, and it is far more than simple talent. If you become a student of the game, Dent said, the game becomes easy.
Dent laughed Wednesday recalling a recent phone chat with Mike Singletary, who insisted that Dent never studied. I told Mike that some of us just have a gift, Dent said, laughing.
That gift included Dent playing some defensive back at practice, to maximize his legendary agility and speed. Gift? Amazing how gifted people also seem so often to out-work everyone else.
Pass rushing is like pitching baseball, Dent told me. You throw balls; you throw strikes. You set people up.
If the game seemed easy for Dent, part of that was because of that unseen work. He once told me that the best offensive tackles he ever saw were Lomas Brown, longtime Detroit Lion, and teammate Jimbo Covert, partly because they studied him so well too.
I played against all the great tackles, Dent said Wednesday, and no disrespect to anyone, but Jimbo Covert was the best I ever faced.
He once said that after facing Covert all week in practice, games were easy.
A road with turns
To see Dent honored at Halas Hall was a time to exhale as well. He and the Bears had a rough parting back in 1994, with the Colonel earning free agency by reaching a sack incentive in 1993, then being told to stay away from the Bears weightroom facilities because he was a distraction.
The Bears held the door open for Dent to re-sign until the night before the 1994 draft, when they decided they could wait no longer and instead drafted John Thierry to replace Dent.
The Bears even brought Dent back briefly during the 1995 season, a return that lasted all of three games in part because he kiddingly referred to defensive line coach Clarence Brooks as Rook, which the coach didnt take well to. At times Dent made unhappy, frustrated comments about the Bears seeming lack of support for his Hall of Fame case.
The Super Bowl MVP honor that Dent accomplished in XX was the capstone of a season that nearly didnt happen. He, Singletary, Todd Bell and Al Harris were on track to be holdouts prior to the 85 season. Singletary felt that promises were made and broken by management. Dent was coming off an epic 17.5-sack season, had a year on his contract but wanted an insurance policy to protect him against an injury in the course of the 85 preseason.
Dent and Singletary made their peace with the Bears and entered into history. Bell and Harris became unfortunate footnotes to that season.
But all of that was pleasantly in the past, in closed chapters of Richard Dents football life. NFL justice was finally served with his selection and one of the high points of Richards time Wednesday was the long, long accounts of people who helped him, and who would say vice versa.
There was Covert, Singletary, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael and so many of his teammates. One he unfailingly mentions is Mike Hartenstine, from whom Richard learned so much about the use of hands that became part of Dents excellence.
You can never get here by yourself, Richard said. This is the first award for my career, and it doesnt get any better than this.
Life can get cloudy sometimes, but I guess this is my time to shine.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.