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Dean, Trade to 49ers Gave him Freedom to Perform

It was a trade that defined a career.

Fred Dean already was a standout defensive end when the San Diego Chargers dealt him to the 49ers during the 1981 season.

Dean was depressed when the deal came down. That didn't last long because he was a hit from his first game with the 49ers. By the end of the season, he was a Super Bowl champion.

Today, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It has been a long time since Dean, one of the NFL's first situational pass rushers, has had this kind of attention. "I never cared for all the spotlight and stuff," he said. "It's OK for the purpose at hand."

Although he spent his first six-plus seasons with the Chargers, Dean is best remembered as a 49er. After all, he won two Super Bowl titles with San Francisco. The Chargers, by comparison, have been to one Super Bowl, where they were embarrassed by the 49ers after the 1994 season.

Dean picked former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo to introduce him in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo also introduced Joe Montana and the late Bill Walsh.

Asked about his choice, Dean said: "When I start to explain that to you, you'll be messing with my speech. So, you know, I can only say that Mr. D., Eddie D., he's instrumental in my life in more ways than one, some ways probably more than Mr. D. even knows himself. But he gave me a lot of inspiration, and so did coach Walsh.

"To me, it was one of the lower moments in my life. I was kind of depressed because I was leaving the Chargers. Coach Bill Walsh, he brought me in. Mr. Eddie, he accepted me."

Dean was with the Chargers during the Air Coryell years under coach Don Coryell, when Dan Fouts and the rest of the offense lit up the scoreboard. The defense tended to be overlooked, but Dean already was establishing himself as a fierce pass rusher.

"The pressure he could apply from the outside, and the push we got on the inside, really, people forget how good of a defense it was," said former linebacker Jim Laslavic, now a San Diego sportscaster. "He was the Freak before the Freak. He was like Jevon Kearse in that he wasn't especially big. … I probably weighed more than him. Fred was quick, and he was strong. He had natural strength."

Contract issues eventually led to Dean's trade.

"Well, No. 1, the pay," Dean said. "Being paid less than a truck driver at that time, you know, that makes a difference in life for me."

Dean said his career changed dramatically once he arrived in San Francisco.

"I actually stepped on the other side for a minute, breathed in the air, looked at it as a rainbow. I made it to the other side of the rainbow. For me, that was the pot of gold. It was a different lifestyle for me altogether. I felt free to perform once I got there."

Dean said one of the most memorable moments of his career was his first game with the 49ers.

"At that time, they were playing the Dallas Cowboys. Bill Walsh told me they hadn't beat 'em in awhile. It was in the paper and everything about how they had not. For me, it was a platform for me to prove a point, that I still had it and could do it."

That was when Walsh transformed him.

"I started for the Chargers, was a down lineman, played every down," Dean said. "With coach Walsh, he said, 'I'm going to use you sparingly for rushing the passer.' He said he didn't know what my condition was.

"The first game, he said I'd only play like 10 or 12 plays. … Ten or 12 plays turned into a whole game against the Dallas Cowboys. I asked him about that after the game. He laughed and said, 'Your condition was good.' "

Dean became one of the first defensive ends to only play on passing downs. His career sack total is near 100, but the number is unofficial because sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982.

Dean doesn't like singling out the attributes that made him a Hall of Famer. The Chargers, coincidentally, waited until this summer to announce that he would enter their Hall of Fame during the regular season.

"You know, me, I never really looked at it from that standpoint," he said. "The thing for me was I loved the game. I played it to win, and I was a team player. I love competition. Even among my own teammates, I liked the thing about challenging my teammates so we could all step up another level."

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