Chris Doleman, Hall Of Famer
by Larry Schmitt
Continuing our weekly series highlighting the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class, we remain firmly entrenched on the line of scrimmage. This time however, we will move over to the defensive side of the ball.
Chris Doleman was an impact defensive player for three teams over his 15 year career.
He was drafted as an outside linebacker from Pitt, 4th overall in 1985 by the Minnesota Vikings. Toward the end of his second year, he was moved up to defensive end and found his niche as an edge rusher. Using his dynamic play-making ability, he became a premier defensive play-maker on the level of contemporaries like Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor.
In 1987 (a strike shortened, 15 game season in which Doleman played only 12 games) he led Minnesota with 11 sacks and was voted to his first of eight Pro Bowls. 1989 was an even better season. He had 22 sacks, one-half short of the all-time record, and was named First Team All Pro. 1992 brought Doleman the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award when he led the Vikings with 14.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown and a safety.
His athletic ability enabled him to make big plays, where he combined speed, body lean, leverage, and balance into a competitive advantage few offensive tackles were able to handle. More than just a sack specialist, Doleman complied 45 forced fumbles during his career and eight interceptions, an unusually high number for a defensive lineman. He also had three return touchdowns and two safeties.
Most remarkable however was his ruggedness. Over the span of Doleman's 15-year career, he played in 232 games, missing only two due to injury.
Not coincidentally, team success also followed Doleman wherever he went. In six of 10 seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings qualified for the playoffs. Following the 1993 season he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons, where he continued to maintain his high level of play, leading the Falcons with nine sacks in 1995. In Doleman's second year with the Falcons he led Atlanta in sacks as the team qualified for the playoffs. As a free agent, he signed with the San Francisco 49ers and was a key part in their three consecutive playoff berths during his tenure there. Doleman recorded double-digit sack seasons, include a career second best 15 in 1998, before returning to Minnesota for one final year in 1999. Excelling in these big situations, he recorded seven sacks in six playoff games.
Doleman was rewarded for his achievements by being named to the NFL's prestigious All Decade Team for the 1990's.