This obituary is part of a series about people who died from the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others Here.
After losing two seasons with a new head coach and an unproven young quarterback named Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers had a modest 3-2 record in October 1981, preparing for the Dallas Cowboys, who had beaten them in every game for nearly a decade .
But something about the 49ers had changed. You had just hit a defensive end, Fred Dean.
During the first half of that game against the Cowboys, Dean relentlessly pursued Dallas quarterback Danny White. In one game, he turned an offensive lineman 360 degrees on his way to a sack.
During half time in the locker room, Dean pulled out a pack of Kools and started smoking. The entire team just stared at him, San Francisco defender Ronnie Lott called back.
Awakened by Dean’s aggression and effortless confidence, the 49ers crushed the Cowboys, 45-14.
“He’s an inspiration to the rest of the group,” said coach Bill Walsh told The New York Times next month. “Not that they’re ragged, but he gave us the only size we need to be.”
The team would win the Super Bowl that season, its first, and a dominant force in the N.F.L. for almost 20 years.
Dean died on October 14th while being flown from a hospital in West Monroe, La., To Jackson, Miss. He was 68 years old. The cause was complications from Covid-19, said his son Mason.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 227 pounds, Dean was “a shrimp” for a defensive end, according to the Times. He compensated for his size with the speed and strength in his hands gained through martial arts-inspired training.
Dean was an all-pro starter for the San Diego Chargers before San Francisco acquired him in the 1981 season. The 49ers made him a pass-rushing specialist who only played him when the defense took a 4-3 formation. He positioned himself on the weak side, usually leaving a single defender between him and the quarterback.
Dean had six sacks in a game against the New Orleans Saints in 1983, a record that lasted until 1990. He helped lead the 49ers to a 26:21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1982 Super Bowl and to another championship in 1985, the Miami Dolphins, 38-16. The times attributed That win, primarily to put pressure on the 49ers, brought him against Miami’s quarterback Dan Marino.
Dean retired after the 1985 season and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., the previous owner of the 49ers, credited Dean with starting the 49ers’ success in the Super Bowl: they won the championship five times in a 14-year period.
“We wouldn’t have won five if we hadn’t won the first two,” he said said. “Without Fred Dean we wouldn’t have won the first two.”
Frederick Rudolph Dean was born on February 24, 1952 in Arcadia, La. His father, Rual Dean, was a dairy farmer and his mother, Rosie (Giles) Dean, was a housewife.
Fred’s upbringing in nearby Ruston, La., Was severe.
“Mom would whip me before she left and I hadn’t done anything,” he said called back in an interview with the 49ers. “I would ask her why. She said,” Just in case. “
At Louisiana Tech University, Dean led the soccer team to several national and conference titles. He was drafted by the chargers in 1975.
His marriage to Irene Bolds ended in divorce. In 1990 he married Pamela Massie.
In addition to his son Mason from Dean’s second marriage, she survived him as well as four children from his first marriage, Fred Dean Jr., Fredricka White, Fredia Stringfellow and Keith Bolds; two other children, Brandon Dean and Amanada Beach Dean; a brother, James Earl Dean; two sisters, Dessie Pruitt and Dorothy Dean; 15 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
After retiring from football, Dean suffered financial setbacks and developed medical problems, including diabetes. To pay his bills, he had to sell his Super Bowl rings.
His life stabilized after earning a Masters in Theology from United Theological Seminary and Bible College in Monroe, La. He was pastor of the New Nature Ministries Church in Ruston.
In his Hall of Fame Acceptance speechDean considered the elemental struggle of being a defensive ending.
“You get used to falling in the dirt, getting your clothes dirty, and wallowing a little,” he said. “I said to myself,” Hmm, I like the dirt. “