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49ers legend, Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean, dies at 68 of coronavirus

Photo by Arthur Anderson/Getty Images

Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean has died at age 68 of coronavirus, reports the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson and other outlets. The tragic news comes as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 217,000 Americans.

Dean was instrumental in the 49ers’ first Super Bowl win in the 1981 season, before sacks were widely tracked. He had 17.5 sacks in the 1983 season and played five seasons with the team, before retiring after the 1985 campaign. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times and was a first-team All-Pro twice.

He was acquired from the San Diego Chargers in the middle of the 1981 season, when the 49ers were 1-2, in exchange for a second-round pick and the option to reverse the order of first-round picks.

In exchange, the 49ers got their first Super Bowl, and the start of a dynasty.

Charle Young, the team’s tight end in 1981, told KNBR last year that the trade for Dean, who was named to his second Pro Bowl and made his first All-Pro team a year prior, was a turning point for the 49ers. It brought them belief.

“Until we got Fred Dean, we were just an average team,” Young said. “When we brought Fred Dean in, then all of those defensive backs became All-Pro.”

Free safety Dwight Hicks received his first Pro Bowl nod in 1981, and was named to three successive Pro Bowl teams through 1984. Ronnie Lott, a rookie that year, was likely on an unchangeable trajectory, and made both the Pro Bowl and was named a first team All-Pro in 1981. Both Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson made the Pro Bowl in 1984 and 1985, when Wright was also a first team All-Pro.

Defensive line coach Bill McPherson said Dean was, “the best pass rusher I’ve ever seen.”

When Dean joined the team, though, he was hazed like any rookie was. He told KNBR last year that defensive tackle Lawrence Pillers was the prankster mastermind, and that coaches would jokingly pick up the 230-pounder in team meetings.

Despite the constant ribbing, Dean said he’d often invite his teammates over to his recently-purchased, sparsely-decorated apartment and make them home-cooked Louisiana food.

“I didn’t have a lot of furniture and the guys would joke at me,” Dean said. “I don’t know if I had enough chairs for all of them, but they all had a plate.”

Dean was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.


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