Body of work proves Dent belongs

By Dan Pompei
Updated: February 10, 2011

CHICAGO — Since Richard Dent was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, I’ve heard the phrase “long overdue” a lot. I probably have used it myself. He had been eligible for induction for nine years and a finalist for seven. He made the cut to the final 10 in each of the last five years. As one of the 44 selectors for the Hall, I should be able to explain what took so long. I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try. The biggest problem, I believe, was there weren’t enough photographs of Dent with leis around his neck and women performing the hula at his side. The most prominent question I heard about Dent through my Hall discussions was, “Why didn’t he play in more Pro Bowls?” Dent played in four. For comparison’s sake, Deion Sanders, who also was voted in Saturday but was a first-time finalist, played in eight. Since Dent first became a finalist, seven pass rushers joined him on the list and then jumped over him. Each of them except Fred Dean, who was a situational player most of his career, had more Pro Bowl muscle. Reggie White played in 13 Pro Bowls, Bruce Smith 11, Derrick Thomas nine, John Randle seven, Rickey Jackson six and Andre Tippett five. Dent had better numbers than Pro Bowlers who were chosen ahead of him in 1987 and ’88. In ’87, despite missing four games, Dent had 12 1/2 sacks — 1 1/2 more than Chris Doleman and three more than Charles Mann, both of whom made the team ahead of him. But Dent didn’t get 4 1/2 of those sacks until after the Pro Bowl voting ended. The next year, Dent had 10 1/2 sacks, more than Pro Bowlers Doleman (eight) and Mann (5 1/2). But Dent played in only 13 games as his season ended in late November with a broken leg. Injured players don’t get voted to the Pro Bowl. In three other seasons, Dent came within one sack of equaling or surpassing the total of a Pro Bowler who was chosen ahead of him. So Dent easily could have had six Pro Bowls on his resume and might have had seven or eight with a little luck. Number of Pro Bowls would not have been an issue in that case. Honors such as the Pro Bowl, All-Pro teams and all-decade teams can be misleading to Hall of Fame voters. Hundreds of stories are written annually decrying Pro Bowl injustices, snubs and reputation picks.

Popularity and past performance factor in way too much. What I’ve stressed to other selectors is just because Pro Bowl voters or All-Pro voters got it wrong doesn’t mean we should. The Hall selectors have the advantage of being able to dissect a career completely, season by season. We have time. We have research. We have contemplation. We have discourse. Most award voting is done hurriedly, without enough thought. Hall of Fame voting is different. Dent, the MVP of Super Bowl XX, believes his resume was light on honors because he never was promoted to the same extent as other players.

Certainly, he was never the fair-haired poster boy on the Bears. He came in as an eighth-round pick and had a running feud with Mike Ditka that was difficult to understand. Dent’s body of work certainly suggests he was worthy of more honors. He had eight double-digit sack seasons. The only defensive ends with more are Smith and White. Dent ranks second all-time among defensive ends in sacks per start and fifth in sacks per game. Another argument against Dent was that the ’80s-era Bears defense already had two defenders in the Hall and didn’t deserve any more. Dent somehow ended up in the shadows of Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary. In truth, he was the primary playmaker on one of the most dominant defenses in history and a primary reason the Bears won so much. The Bears won 72 percent of the games in which he had a sack. When he didn’t have one, they won 39 percent. Hampton and Dent were perfect complements to one another. Hampton may have been the heart of the defense, but he needed Dent. In games Hampton played without Dent, the Bears’ winning percentage was .459. With Hampton and Dent, it was .781. As for Singletary, Dent had more forced fumbles (33-14), interceptions (8-7) and passes defended (58-51). But those of us who had the privilege to see Dent play every week don’t need statistics or honors to justify his place in the Hall.