Fred Dean, a Hall of Fame defensive with the Chargers and 49ers, died Wednesday after battling COVID-19, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced. Dean was 68 years old. Former 49ers teammate Dwight Hicks posted on Facebook on Oct. 8 that Dean had been hospitalized in intensive care with COVID-19.
"I just learned that my 49er teammate Fred Dean was taken to the hospital and is on a ventilator in intensive care,'' Hicks' post read via the Mercury News.
A second-round pick in the 1975 NFL Draft, Dean blossomed into an All-Pro player during his time with the Chargers. In 1979, his presence helped the Chargers capture their first division title since the AFL-NFL merger. The following season, Dean helped San Diego come to within a game of the Super Bowl.
In 1981, a contract dispute led to Dean being traded from San Diego to San Francisco. The trade paid immediate dividends for the 49ers, who that season won their first of five Super Bowl titles. He recorded one of San Francisco's five sacks during the 49ers' 26-21 victory over the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.
"He was the strongest opponent I ever faced," recalled Bengals Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Munoz, via the State Journal-Register.
In 1983, Dean earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection after recording 17.5 sacks. The following season, his presence helped San Francisco become the first team to win 15 regular-season games. In Super Bowl XIX, Dean and his teammates shut down Dan Marino and the rest of the Dolphins' prolific offense during the 49ers' 38-16 victory.
The following is a statement from Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker:
The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Fred Dean. He exemplified many of the values learned from this great game – commitment, integrity, courage – over the course of his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Fred's wife, Pam, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Fred's memory.
Dean played one last season before retiring before the start of the 1986 season. He joined several of his former teammates in Canton, Ohio, in 2008.
"When it came to pass-rush off the corner, nobody was faster or quicker than Fred Dean," Chargers Hall of Fame receiver Charlie Joiner said of Dean. "He was also tremendously strong. If he weighed 225, his upper body was 210."
While he wasn't the first, Dean, who unofficially tallied 93 sacks for his career despite making just 82 starts, showed how effective a pass rush specialist could be on the outcome of a game.
"When he was at San Diego, they flopped him side to side," said Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf said. "Ted Hendricks, Lawrence Taylor, they moved around, too. But I think Dean was the first ... When we played, we had to make sure to account for Dean on every play. And you had to hurry up and get players on the field to block him."
Dean was also a kindred spirit who was beloved by his teammates for his laid back demeanor.
"One of the first times I met Fred, he's laying on a bench in our weight room smoking a cigarette," recalled former 49ers center Randy Cross. And I looked down and said, 'Fred, what are you doing man?' He said, 'Well, I was thinking about lifting weights, but I thought I might lie here until I got over it.'"
"James Dean," added Hall of Fame 49ers safety Ronnie Lott, "wasn't as cool as Fred Dean."