Chris Doleman played defensive end in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner. He simply got to the quarterback--a lot--and then got back into position for the next play. He did it so well and so efficiently for 15 years that he will be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
If you're wondering about how Chris Doleman carries himself in his post-career days, it mirrors how he played--straightforward, no-nonsense. Doleman had a 25-minute conference call with reporters (including us) on Tuesday and addressed all aspects of his career, who was the toughest person he ever played against, and what he thinks of today's NFL.
Doleman is excited about his pending induction, but he doesn't know how emotional he'll be when the moment comes. It is the end of a journey that he started when he first began playing football at the age of 8. Thirty years and 150.5 sacks later, he retired at the age of 38.
Most Vikings fans might not remember that Doleman began his career as a linebacker. He played two and a half years at the position in Minnesota, so he didn't really begin the craft that got him into Canton until midway through the 1987 season. But he immediately loved the mentality that came with being a right defensive end. "It's one of those pivotal positions that can determine the outcome of games. It was my job and responsibility to get to [the quarterback] and get him down and help my team."
Doleman said that his mentality wasn't necessarily to put a big hit on the quarterback. He just wanted to separate the ball from the player. "If you do that as a linebacker to a running back, it's just a fumble. But as a defensive lineman doing that to the quarterback, that's a sack and a fumble. It's a much bigger play."
Those bigger plays are magnified by the playoffs and Doleman realized that. "The playoffs are where you really make a name for yourself." He recalled a big upset win in 1987 over the San Francisco 49ers that really put him on the map and convinced Bill Walsh that left tackle was a premium position. "I know it's not popular, but those guys [the offensive line] are important. Think about it. If you don't have any protection up front, you can't throw the ball. You can have the worst quarterback in the league, and still run the ball and score. Your offensive line does so much more for you than just protect the quarterback."
It might come as a surprise that Doleman has such a respect for the guys he beat for a living until you remember that he went against fellow Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman in practice. "When we practiced against each other, we knew that we would never face anyone tougher than each other on the field. We made each other sure that we were prepared to go out and play the best games that we could play. Because during the course of the week, we've already paid our dues by practicing against each other."
While Doleman appreciates everything the NFL did for him, he favors his era over the current one. "In my era, it was nothing but players that loved the game. My era and the guys before me created an industry and slice of Americana that's really hard to replicate. I'm proud to be a part of that history." He doesn't really like how the current NFL favors offense so much, even though defensive players are bigger than when he played. "I don't want to see the 50 and 60 point games. I want to see a good defense match up against a good offense. If fans want to see more points, then why aren't they watching the NBA? There's plenty of points scored there."
Doleman acknowledged that he wouldn't be where he is today without his coaches, and wow did he have a solid lineup of them. Bud Grant, Bill Walsh, and Tony Dungy all had an instrumental impact on his career and his life. "They showed a lot about what it took to be a professional and how to play the game."
He isn't sure what he's going to say in his induction speech because he hasn't written it yet. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise because he isn't sure what the big fuss is all about with all the fanfare surrounding the induction. "I'm pretty cool with them just saying 'Hey Chris, congratulations", and you move on. I don't need all this, you know, fashion show, and all these presentations, and all these formal introductions, speeches, and kumbaya moments. I never played the game like that."
The most important of the induction to Doleman is sharing it with his family. "I cherish that my kids had a chance to see me play and see exactly what I did, and knowing my impact I had on the game." His 22-year-old son will introduce him in Canton, which Doleman said was a "no brainer". "That's the bottom line. To have your parents there, to have your kids there. That's why you worked, that's why you played. My parents were the ones taking me to practice, going to games, and driving all over God's creation to watch us play. This is just as much theirs as it is mine."
It's refreshing to see a Hall of Famer that was, is, and only will be all about football. Doleman has had his priorities straight since day one, and it will be great to see him get the ultimate reward for it this weekend.