Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 7 Richard Dent, originally published on Feb. 7.
Richard Dent has the rare distinction of being a defensive Super Bowl MVP and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, remarkable for a player who wouldn’t have been drafted in today’s NFL.
Dent was an eighth-round draft choice by the Chicago Bears out of Tennessee State, then a Division I-AA independent, in 1983. The NFL Draft today lasts only seven rounds. He made an almost immediate impact and was part of one of history’s dominant defenses and amazing playoff runs, capped by a 46-10 destruction of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.
“When you are that young you really don’t know what’s taken place,” Dent said in a 2013 story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Now you’re 25, almost 30 years past that time. It looks like you are having a lot of fun but when I look at it, it doesn’t seem as fun as it appears. It brings back good feelings, having good times, clicking, working with others. It’s good to be able to see some of those people today. It allows you another extension to life or whatever else you may want to do.”
Dent, 6-5 and 265 pounds at the time, was a fast, rangy, speed-rushing end, an ideal fit for coordinator Buddy Ryan’s “46” defense. The scheme put eight players near the line of scrimmage — “in the box” — and pressured quarterbacks and disrupted running lanes.
Dent was one of a handful of playmakers on the Bears’ defense, along with linemen Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael, linebackers Mike Singletary and Wilber Marshall and defensive backs Dave Duerson and Gary Fencik.
The Bears arrived in New Orleans after going 15-1 in the regular season and shutting out the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC playoffs. Dent had 17 sacks, and the Bears led the league in scoring defense (198) and turnover differential (plus-23).
Late in the season, the Bears also released a rap song and video, the Super Bowl Shuffle. Dent was one of the soloists, and his lines included:
The sackman’s comin’
I’m your man Dent.
If the quarterback’s slow,
He’s gonna get bent.
In the Super Bowl, the Patriots scored first, on a field goal set up by Walter Payton’s early fumble.
“They got their three points, so the shutout went away,” Dent said in the Times-Picayune. “We were a little pissed right there, as the defense. The offense kind of screwed up that situation because Walter fumbled and they got the ball in a good area and ‘Bam’ they get three points. So we were a little pissed. But we were like, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and take care of this business’ and that’s what we went ahead and did.”
The Bears limited New England to 123 yards, sacked quarterbacks Steve Grogan and Tony Eason seven times and came up with six turnovers. Dent finished with 1.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and blocked a pass, and was named MVP.
Dent won a second Super Bowl ring as a member of the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX, though he was injured much of the season. He retired after the 1997 season with 137.5 sacks – 124.5 while he played for the Bears. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Dent told the Times-Picayune that he was inspired by the words of his college coach at Tennessee State, Joe Gilliam Sr.
“You have to be pushed to the limit that you know you don’t have,” Dent recalled. “If you haven’t been pushed to the limit that you don’t know that you have, it’s hard to be great at something. Being great at something, you have to push yourself to a limit that you don’t know that you have.”