Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
During Richard Dent’s 15-year career in the National Football League, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end, was a sack machine that harassed opposing quarterbacks nearly every time they dropped back to pass. While the quarterback sack has been the measure of success for defensive linemen for quite some time, it did not actually become an official NFL statistic until 1982, one year before Dent entered the 1983 NFL Draft. After the Chicago Bears selected him in the eighth round, 203rd pick overall, he set his sights to take full advantage of the newly minted statistic.
As a rookie, Dent played in all 16 games and filled in as a starter for the injured Dan Hampton in three of them. As a solid replacement, Dent showed a great deal of promise and finished the season with three sacks. He registered the first sack of his career on Nov. 27, 1983 against the San Francisco 49ers early in the second quarter with a 3-3 tie. The 49ers had just entered Chicago territory on a fake punt which gained 16 yards on fourth-and-9 and were on the threshold of field goal range. Three plays later, on third-and-1 from the Chicago 32, Dent rushed the end and took down quarterback Joe Montana for a loss of 9 yards to force the Niners to punt the ball. The Bears scored a touchdown on their ensuing possession and took the lead 10-3 just before halftime. Chicago’s defense didn’t allow a second half score and the Bears went on to win 13-3. Dent was awarded his first game ball. It was a sign of things to come.
(Note: Sacking Joe Montana became a staple for Dent throughout his career. Eight times the future Hall of Fame quarterback was dropped behind the line by Dent. Montana and Steve DeBerg (8) were the signal callers most sacked by Dent.)
Dent became a full-time starter early in his second season and rewarded the Bears when he led the NFC and set a team record with 17.5 sacks in 1984. Six times during that season Dent recorded multiple sacks in a game, helping Chicago to their first title of any kind since the 1963 season when they won both the Western Conference and NFL championships. For his effort, Dent earned the first of four Pro Bowl selections as well as All-Pro and All-NFC honors.
For an encore, the Bears’ 1985 season proved to be even better as they cruised to a 15-1 regular season record. Dent put together another phenomenal year as he led the league with 17 sacks, recorded his first two career interceptions and the lone “pick-six” of his career. The season was capped in remarkable fashion as the Bears blitzed through the playoffs. Led by a dominating defense, Chicago shut out the New York Giants 21-0 in the NFC Divisional round and then the Los Angeles Rams 24-0 in the NFC Championship game. Dent set the tone in those games and was credited with a combined total of nine tackles and 4.5 sacks. It all came together in Super Bowl XX with an MVP performance against the New England Patriots. Dent finished with 1.5 sacks, three tackles, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles as the Bears dominated the Patriots 46-10.
Dent continued his consistently stellar play as he added six more double-digit sack seasons over the next eight years (1986-1993). During that span he only missed double-digit totals in 1989 (9) and 1992 (8.5). In all, the Bears’ defensive end registered 137.5 sacks against 67 different QBs including six Hall of Famers during his career. Dent’s career sack total ranked third all-time in NFL history at the time of his retirement and helped ensure his place in Canton. His bronze bust is forever displayed in the Hall of Fame alongside the greatest legends of all time.