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Dean drafted to elite team

CANTON, Ohio — Not too far away from George Halas Boulevard and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are endless miles of corn fields that seemingly stretch from here to Wyoming.

If the corn stalks could be talking today, they might be saying something like:

“Welcome to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Fred Dean.

You’re one of us now.”

It was the perfect backdrop for the biggest day in Dean’s athletic career.

The hard work and relentless dedication that has helped define the landscape of this area symbolizes the very qualities that helped bring the former Ruston High School and Louisiana Tech University star to this special moment.

Standing tall on a stage at Fawcett Stadium along with five other legendary figures from the National Football League, Dean was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame here Saturday evening.

Joining him: Darrell Green, Art Monk, Gary Zimmerman, Emmitt Thomas and Andre Tippett.

“Now we’re all teammates on a different team,” said Dean of his fellow inductees. “It’s the Hall of Fame team, and we’re all happy about this day and what it means to us, our families, our friends and all of those who have supported us to be able to receive this great honor.

“Honestly, I’ll tell you, I have found it really tough to believe all of this happening. I never thought about it, I never dreamed about it.

“Until this week, I wasn’t sure if it was still going to happen, because something like this, it just doesn’t happen every day.”

It sure doesn’t.

Dean and the five other legends of the game are in an extra exclusive fraternity.

Less than 1 percent of the players who have put on an NFL uniform since the sport’s inception have reached Canton.

“You look at it from that perspective and you can appreciate what Fred Dean and these other guys have accomplished,” said Gil Brandt, the former player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys. “Not everybody gets into this club. You have to earn your way into it.”

Dean did, the first-ever Ruston High graduate and second from Tech (the other was Terry Bradshaw) being named to four Pro Bowls and as both an NFC and AFC Defensive Player of the Year, the latter two awards coming with two different organizations (San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers).

With the 49ers, “Mean Fred” was a major factor in two Super Bowl titles.

“Fred was the catalyst that put the 49ers into the next generation of champions,” said Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., the former team owner who presented him for induction into the Hall of Fame. “When coach (Bill) Walsh traded for him in 1981, he knew that Fred could be the difference maker.

“Single-handedly, Fred made the difference in our defense going from being very good to great. He had the great quickness and speed that we needed and, from there, we took off on a great run of Super Bowls.

“Without him, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Dean picked DeBartolo as his presenter because of “the major impact he had on my life” and “how much all of the players thought of Mr. D when they were with the 49ers.”

But had he not passed away several years ago, Walsh would have been the pick.

“I understand that completely, because Fred thought the world of Coach Walsh,” DeBartolo said before Friday night’s Enshrinees’ Dinner held at the Canton Civic Center. “I just feel very humbled that Fred chose me to present him. I also presented Joe Montana and Coach Walsh when they were elected. Now, being the presenter for Fred, it’s just icing on the cake.”

It was in early February that Dean and the other inductees got word of their election to the Hall of Fame, but the feeling began to truly sink in this weekend.

“I never set my feelings on thinking that one of these days I would be in the Hall of Fame,” Dean said. “I never looked at it in that way at all. I never thought about it. I could see myself maybe going out with a bunch of friends and having a nice dinner or something, but going into the Hall of Fame? That has never been my thinking.”

And in the days leading into the enshrinement ceremony that became an official sellout nearly two months ago, the Arcadia native admitted that “I was more concerned about making sure my acceptance speech went right than about getting the gold jacket or the bronze bust.

“I was trying to make sure I had everybody in (the speech) who had helped me receive this honor and also keeping my emotions in check so I wouldn’t break down.”

Dean and the other inductees made a “bet” earlier in the week about who might “break down and cry,” but all also agreed that it would be near impossible to go through the entire weekend and not feel some special emotions.

“The veteran Hall of Famers, the ones who have been inducted before, they all were telling us this week that you’re going to find out how tough it is to keep from being emotional,” he said.

“You start talking about your family and everyone who was there with you as you played the game, and it makes it very difficult.”

An estimated 250 supporters of Dean were in attendance for the various events surrounding Saturday’s induction ceremony. Father Rural Dean was there and so was wife Pam. Such former Tech teammates as Charlie New, Lewis Frost and Tony Jones were there.

Jerry Attaway, a former assistant coach for the 49ers, flew in from his home in Nevada. He wasn’t about to miss this special day for Dean.

“I had to be here,” he said. “Fred was a special player, one of the greatest to ever play this game. I have kicked myself many a time for not having kept more films back from the days when Fred played for the 49ers because they would be a great teaching tool for young players on how to play the defensive end position. He was a highlight film every time he played.”

Recalled Attaway about Dean’s legendary work ethic:

“Fred made himself into a great player. Hours upon hours, he would be working on certain stances or how to rush the passer, and it was outside of what we were doing as a team.

“One time, I went over and visited with him and he was out in the yard fine-tuning a pass-rushing technique that we had suggested he use. There was a tall tree nearby and I told Fred, ‘think of that tree as an offensive lineman who wants to keep you from getting to his quarterback.’ The next thing I know, Fred is all but knocking down that tree.”

Just as with that tree and those endless rows of corn stalks rising out of the Ohio farmland, Fred Dean stood tall here Saturday.

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