Dean the latest 49ers great to join NFL elite

Fred Dean, the pass-rushing dynamo who pushed the 49ers over the top to begin one of the greatest dynasties in the history of professional sports, became the latest luminary from that era to join the NFL elite when he was named Saturday as one of six members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2008.

Dean joined the 49ers early in the magical 1981 season and was one of the primary reasons for all the magic. Realizing his team was missing a legitimate pass-rushing force, coach Bill Walsh traded San Francisco's second-round draft pick in 1983 and the option to exchange 1983 first-round picks to the San Diego Chargers to acquire Dean during the sixth week of the season.

It was one of the best moves ever made by The Genius.

Dean was the final piece in the puzzle that turned San Francisco into a championship-level defense that made the 49ers a championship-level team. After practicing with his new team for just a few days, Dean made an immediate impact in one of the seminal games in franchise history - a 45-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys that established San Francisco as a true contender and was the focal point of a season-defining seven-game winning streak.

Dean, who was just supposed to be eased into the lineup during that game, instead contributed three sacks, forced two hurried passes and batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage to play a key role in handing Dallas' its worst loss in 11 seasons.

Despite playing just 11 games that year, Dean led the 49ers with 12 sacks and was chosen as UPI's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He capped the season with a sack of quarterback Ken Anderson during the 49ers' 26-21 victory over Cincinnait in Super Bowl XVI.

But that hardly was Dean's shining moment with the 49ers. After the strike-shortened season of 1982 (when he led the team with 3.5 sacks), Dean led the NFC with 17.5 sacks in 1983 on San Francisco's way back to the NFC Championship Game. Dean had a then-NFL record six sacks during a November victory over New Orleans.

In five seasons with the 49ers, Dean recorded 40 sacks to rank seventh on the team's all-time list. One of the most feared defenders of his era, Dean was the prototype for the edge rushers who have become so dominant in the league today. Though the sack didn't become an official statistic until 1982, Dean is believed to have recorded more than 100 in his career.

After a long wait, Dean finally made it onto the list of finalists for the Hall of Fame last year, then took the next step after being named among the 17 finalists this year, a list that included former 49er Richard Dent.

Dean will be inducted in Canton, Ohio, on August 2 along with the rest of the Hall's Class of 2008 enshrinees that includes cornerbacks Darrell Green and Emmitt Thomas, wide receiver Art Monk, linebacker Andre Tippett and tackle Gary Zimmerman.

Dean becomes the 12th San Francisco player and 13th 49er (along with Walsh) to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"As one of the dominant defensive players of his era, Fred was perhaps one of the key performers in the 49ers' first Super Bowl team, especially considering he had joined the team five games into the 1981 season," 49ers owner John York said.

"His acquisition played a direct role in two 49ers Super Bowl championships," York continued. "His career as a standout player cannot be overstated. Fred's induction is extremely important to our family and the 49ers organization. I am proud that he is joining the elite group of 49ers players that are enshrined in Canton."

Dean already had established himself as one of the league's most fearsome pass rushers with the Chargers before he joined the 49ers. A second-round draft pick of the Chargers in 1975, Dean's quickness and strength made him a unique talent that San Diego was quick to exploit.

A linebacker in college, Dean was moved to defensive end despite standing just 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. But he became an immediate force who later helped revolutionize defensive tactics in the NFL as a situational pass rusher in the 1980s.

He became an impact player immediately, recording seven sacks, 93 tackles and four fumble recoveries as a rookie. In 1978, he recorded 15.5 sacks and followed that season by adding nine sacks in 1979 and 10.5 in 1980 as San Diego claimed two consecutive AFC Western Division championships.

But his career really took off - and he ultimately became a Hall of Fame candidate - after he joined the 49ers the next season. He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times with San Francisco - four times overall - and was named All-Pro in 1980 and 1981.

"My thing was I played for the love of the game and that was it," Dean said in a conference call after his selection. "People would tell me about the Hall of Fame, this and that and the other. And when you look at it you're saying, 'Me? Inducted into the Hall of Fame?' And you question that. But I thank God I was, and that the committee found it in their heart to elect me as one of the few to be put amongst the greats."

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