If there’s one thing the Chicago Bears have been known for throughout NFL history, it’s defense.
Specifically, the defensive end position has seen the likes of Ed Sprinkle, Doug Atkins, and in the 1980s and 1990s, Dan Hampton and Richard Dent.
Dent arrived in the Windy City in 1983 and proceeded to tear up opponents and sack records.
— Bears History (@ChiBearsHistory) September 8, 2017
As part of the ferocious 1985 Bears “46 Defense,” Dent helped guide the franchise to Super Bowl XX and was named the game’s MVP.
He would leave Chicago as the organization’s all-time leader in sacks, then win another Super Bowl as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
This is the story of Richard Dent.
The Career That Almost Wasn’t
Richard Lamar Dent was born on December 13, 1960, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Happy Birthday, Richard Dent! 🐻⬇️ pic.twitter.com/zFtvOTupMq
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 13, 2017
Although Dent would eventually become a talented pro football player, his future didn’t appear bright when he was a kid.
Nothing much interested Richard when he was young, not even singing and playing an instrument with his family.
“We won a few contests and thought we were going to be better than the Jackson 5,” Dent’s father, Horace, recalled in 2011. “But Richard, he didn’t ever learn music like my other (seven) sons. I’d say, ‘Why don’t you practice an instrument more?’ And he’d say, ‘Dad, I don’t want to play. Where’s your lawnmower?’”
According to his brothers, Dent’s lack of desire meant a future in manual labor.
“I was dissatisfied Richard wasn’t interested in the band and was like, ‘OK, get the lawnmower and get out of here then,’ ” Horace said. “Finally, one of my boys said, ‘Dad, you might as well leave him alone. Richard’s not going to be nothing but a yard man.’”
Thankfully that outlook changed when Dent tried his hand at sports when he was a junior at Murphy High School in Atlanta.
“And you know, really and truly Richard was a yard man when he grew up—he took away yards,” Horace said, chuckling. “He became what he is.”
As he grew past six feet tall, Dent began to show a penchant for the gridiron.
“Football just happened,” Horace said.
As he thrived at offensive tackle, Dent’s coach saw a future.
When it came time to graduate, William Lester, the coach at Murphy, put in a good word about Dent to the coaches at Tennesse State University in Nashville.
After some consideration, TSU head coach John Merritt gave the 190-pound tackle a walk-on opportunity.
Sack Master at TSU
Shortly after arriving on campus in 1979, the TSU coaches moved Dent to defensive end.
The following year, Dent showed so much improvement as a defender that he was named an All-American and helped the Tigers to a 9-1 record.
Then, as a junior in 1981, he was named an All-American again as TSU went 9-3 and lost to South Carolina State in the I-AA quarterfinals.
In 1982, Dent became a legend on campus when he cobbled together 14 sacks including a program record 4.5 during one game.
He was named an All-American for the third time after the season.
The Tigers ended the year with a 10-1-1 record and a loss in the I-AA semifinals to Eastern Kentucky.
Richard Dent – Tennessee State University pic.twitter.com/R4h68M3oDj
— Brandon Peacy (@PsyOops1) November 20, 2022
Dent ended his collegiate career with 39.5 total sacks (which currently ranks third in team history), 158 total tackles, and six fumble recoveries.
He was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Sheridan Broadcasting Network.
Dent would eventually have his number retired by the Tigers and became a member of the school’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
After his pro-playing career, Dent became the first TSU player to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A Cosmetic Change Gives Dent a Boost
Chicago Bears scout Bill Tobin really liked the young kid from Tennessee State, and he tried to get his bosses to see the same things he did.
“He (Dent) is one of the quickest you will see upfield,” Tobin recalled about his original scouting report for Dent, “and he has a mean streak in him. He will really wrap up the quarterback when he gets to him.'”
The issue that Chicago management had with Dent was the fact that weighed only 215 pounds packed on a 6’5” frame.
They worried that Dent would get killed in the NFL playing defensive line at such a low weight.
However, by the eighth round of the 1983 draft, Dent was still available, and the team selected him with the 203rd overall pick.
Once he arrived at training camp, the coaching staff saw that the rookie had a good work ethic.
They also noticed something else: Dent’s teeth.
One of the craziest NFL stories to me is Richard Dent being “undersized” cause his teeth were so crooked that eating hurt. Bears coach noticed and he got them fixed. Dent put on 30 lbs and went on to 137.5 sacks. Super Bowl MVP for one of the best defenses of all time.
— DJ Crime Dawg (@DJCrimeDawg) February 28, 2021
He had always had crooked teeth, and Dent admitted that it was painful for him to eat anything.
The Bears immediately paid to have his teeth straightened, and Dent began consuming mass quantities of food.
During his first two years with the Bears, Dent added 30–40 pounds while still maintaining his agility and skill.
That was a good thing as Chicago was about to take off.
Chicago Develops an Identity
By 1983, it had been a long time since the Chicago Bears did anything significant.
They were NFL champions in 1963, then appeared in only two playoff games over the next two decades.
In 1982, former Bears player Mike Ditka was hired by the organization to become their new head coach.
During the draft that year, Chicago selected BYU quarterback Jim McMahon in the first round.
1982 – Rookie Quarterback Jim McMahon alone sign “Papa Bear” George Halas. #ChicagoHistory #Bears #BearDown #BearsFootball #NFL #80s #Chicago #Throwback #Flashback #SundayFunday #ChicagoBears #DaBears #PicOfTheDay #October #GoodOldDays #GloryDays #BearsNation pic.twitter.com/vRceBYWIPs
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) October 13, 2018
After a 3-6 strike-shortened season, the Bears hit paydirt multiple times in the 1983 draft.
The team selected tackle Jimbo Covert and receiver Willie Gault in the first round, safety Dave Duerson in the third round, guard Tom Thayer in the fourth, and Dent in the eighth.
Dent played in all 16 games and started three as a rookie while picking up three sacks and 12 tackles.
Dent Becomes the “Sackman”
The more weight Dent gained, the better his play became.
By his second NFL season in 1984, he had packed on more pounds while packing a punch on the field.
Good morning, happy Sunday, & happy birthday to the Sack Man! Richard Dent was born today in 1960.
An unheralded draft pick (203rd), he became a 4-time Pro Bowler & Super Bowl XX MVP for the 1985 Bears. He retired ranked 3rd in all-time sacks behind Reggie White & Bruce Smith. pic.twitter.com/I2m1vJCWjl
— Steve Cortes (@CortesSteve) December 13, 2020
His coaches also saw that Dent was no ordinary eighth-round draft pick.
Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the architect of the “46 defense” had nothing but positive reviews about his newest toy.
“I’ll never forget Buddy saying, ‘Just watch him. He never makes a bad decision,'” Hampton recalled.
Even “Iron” Mike Ditka liked what he saw in Dent.
“Somebody once said greatness is not what you achieve but what you overcome,” said Ditka, “and Richard Dent achieved a lot and he overcame a lot.”
As Dent began racking up sacks and disrupting opposing offenses, it was clear that he had a natural ability to foresee what was coming with each play.
“What distinguished him,” Tobin said, “was his second step and his intelligence. Knowing when he had the offensive tackle off-balance, when he could beat him to the corner. He could run and chase and catch and when he got to the quarterback, he could strip.”
Chicago went 10-6 in 1984 and advanced to the NFC Championship game before losing to San Francisco 23-0.
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) February 8, 2016
Dent was nearly unstoppable as he ended the year with a franchise record 17.5 sacks along with 39 tackles and a league-high four forced fumbles.
He was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro.
The 1984 season was only a taste of what was to come for the Bears.
In 1985, the team was well-balanced on both sides of the ball and only lost once during the season.
During the year, many of the Bears gathered together at a recording studio to sing the song, “Super Bowl Shuffle.”
I ranked every Bear in the Super Bowl Shuffle video from 25 to 1.
— Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk) February 2, 2021
Dent was one of a handful of players who sang lyrics as a soloist during the number.
By then, Dent was well known to Bears fans as well as opposing offensive coordinators.
That year, he compiled an NFL-high 17 sacks to pair with an NFL-high seven forced fumbles and 38 tackles.
He also added two interceptions and a pick-six, the only touchdown of his career.
Dent was a first-team All-Pro, went to his second Pro Bowl, and better yet, would be playing in his first Super Bowl.
The Bears took their 15-1 record into the 1985 playoffs and thoroughly dismantled the Giants and Rams by a combined 45-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Those victories pitted the team against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
𝐉𝐚𝐧𝐮𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝟐𝟔, 𝟏𝟗𝟖𝟔
The Bears defeat the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX to win their first ever Super Bowl Championship. Defensive End Richard Dent was named Super Bowl MVP.
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) January 26, 2022
New England proved to be no match for the Bears or Dent.
The Pats scored the game’s first points, but that was the only bright spot of the day.
Dent and the Chicago defense proceeded to terrorize New England’s offense all afternoon.
By the time the contest ended with the Bears’ 46-10 victory, Dent had 1.5 sacks, a pass block, and forced two fumbles.
He was named the Super Bowl MVP, the first defender to win the award since Dallas players Harvey Martin and Randy White in Super Bowl XII.
— Old School 80s (@OldSchool80s) January 26, 2021
The award and his season stats were vindications for Dent who had come a long way in just three years.
“Richard,” said Hampton years later, “is one of those guys with a chip on his shoulder. Even though he was an eighth-round pick, he always had an image of himself as a big-time player and he felt he had to prove it. Even when he was the MVP of the Super Bowl, Ditka was calling him ‘Robert’ and all that. It was like nobody gave him his due, and I hate to say it, but now he gets the last laugh.”
For the next few years, Dent continued to bring the pain while Chicago kept winning.
From 1986 through 1988, Dent had 34.5 total sacks while the Bears never lost more than four games a season during that span.
Richard Dent is great name for a Defensive End. Had 137.5 career sacks. pic.twitter.com/0zZ3Cm3zmX
— 𝙃𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝘼𝙙𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙩 (@HelmetAddict) April 21, 2018
The only problem was, the team couldn’t advance far in the playoffs, a fact that irked Dent for many years.
“We came back three years in a row and had home-field advantage,” Dent said in 2012. “Our coach couldn’t figure out the right quarterback to play. The disappointing part to me is that we only got one out of it. We should have been the first team ever to win three Super Bowls in a row. It was there for the taking, but we didn’t manage that one position right.”
During the franchise’s 14-2 season in 1986, McMahon went down with an injury and Ditka brought in former Heisman winner Doug Flutie to take his place.
The results were not positive as the diminutive Flutie tossed two picks in the Divisional round loss to Washington.
“Bringing Doug Flutie in and thinking that he’s going to come in and be on a team for three weeks and start him in a playoff game?” Dent said. “Hell, I mean you’re trying to change the name on the Super Bowl trophy to Mike Ditka (from) Vince Lombardi when you do something like that. We had won with (Mike) Tomczak and (Steve) Fuller. That’s all we needed to do is stay with that plan. Then you bring a guy off the street.”
Chicago lost in the Divisional round to the Redskins again in 1987 then couldn’t get past the 49ers in the NFC title game in 1988.
For his part, Ditka acknowledged that not all his decisions during those three years were correct, but he doesn’t regret the Flutie trade.
“Could we have won more? Of course, we could have, but we didn’t,” said Ditka. “I thought the move to get Flutie—I don’t care what the results were—was a great move. Doug Flutie was a winner. He was a winner his whole career. He was a tough guy, he played good. … At the moment we made those decisions, we thought they were the right decisions.”
After a terrible six-win season in 1989, Chicago posted back-to-back 11-5 records in 1990 and 1991.
They then lost in the Divisional and Wild Card rounds respectively both years.
In 1992, the Bears won five games and Ditka was fired after the season.
Meanwhile, Dent continued to have solid years of high sack totals including 12 in 1990 and 12.5 in 1993 during Dave Wannstedt’s first year with the club.
He was voted to the Pro Bowl both years and was a second-team All-Pro in ’90.
Trade to San Francisco
Before the 1994 season, Chicago said goodbye to Dent and allowed him to become a free agent.
On the other side of the country, the 49ers were looking to get quarterback Steve Young his first Super Bowl.
The organization had come close the past two seasons but lost to the Dallas Cowboys both times.
In an effort to get over the hump in ’94, San Fran decided to go the mercenary route and brought in a number of free agents who could help.
Richard Dent – San Francisco 49ers (1994)
— Legends In The Wrong Uniforms (@WrongUnis) October 24, 2022
Among them were Dent, Tim Harris (former Niner and Green Bay menace), linebacker Rickey Jackson (a former All-Pro with the Saints), former Redskin Charles Mann, former Chargers linebacker Gary Plummer, and all-world cornerback Deion Sanders.
The collection of talent was more than enough to get the ’Niners 13 wins and victories against the Bears and Cowboys in the postseason.
Dent spent most of the year battling injuries and played in just two games, collecting two sacks and eight tackles.
imagine: Twitter 1994: “The #49ers are signing a 34-year old Richard Dent, a 36-year old Ricky Jackson and a 34-year old Gary Plummer & think that will help them beat Dallas and win the Super Bowl?! Clowns.”
Sometimes supplementing with vets, you know, isn’t the worst idea: pic.twitter.com/MKeHCaFOpV
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) March 23, 2022
However, he got a second ring when the ’Niners defeated San Diego 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX, giving Young his first and only title.
Return to Chicago and Retirement
With his second title in hand, Dent returned to the Windy City in 1995, but continued to struggle with injuries and started only one game.
In 1996, the Indianapolis Colts signed him to be a situational pass rusher and he played in 16 games, started one, and had 6.5 sacks.
The following season, Philadelphia had the same idea and brought in Dent to be their situational edge rusher.
He played in 15 games for the Eagles and added 4.5 sacks to his career total.
— Legends In The Wrong Uniforms (@WrongUnis) August 15, 2022
When the 1997 season ended, Dent retired after 15 years.
During his career, Dent had 137.5 sacks, 677 tackles, 37 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries, and eight interceptions with one pick-six.
He was a two-time Super Bowl winner, a Super Bowl MVP, a four-time Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro once, second-team All-Pro three times, NFL sacks leader once, two-time NFL forced fumbles leader, and still leads Chicago’s all-time sack list with 124.5.
Dent would eventually be added to the list of the 100 greatest Bears of All-Time.
After leaving football, Dent got involved in charity work and started the Make a Dent Foundation.
The foundation has donated money to various organizations that improve the lives of children.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) December 13, 2015
In 2011, Dent was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“… for the Hall to come in now and acknowledge your career is just amazing. A kid that comes out of Murphy High School [in Atlanta], didn’t play but a year and a half of football and went to Tennessee State to find himself. … I’m so grateful and so happy,” said Dent.
During his induction speech, Dent omitted any praise for Ditka or Ryan but acknowledged his former teammates.
“After you leave this game, what you want more than anything—what I want more than anything—is respect from my peers.”
Dent is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
He currently lives in Chicago and has four children.