2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee Chris Doleman
I’ve been given the privilege of introducing our new Hall of Fame member here from the Vikings. We go back to 1985, he and I got here at the same time. He was a number one draft choice as a linebacker and I was a defensive line coach just hoping at some point that he would drift my way and be a defensive lineman, and he did. I read a book by Michael Lewis called “The Blind Side.” A lot of you had seen the movie, but in that book Bill Walsh talks about back in 1987 his football team had a problem in the fact that their left tackle could not handle Chris Doleman and so that was kind of the start of “The Blind Side” story. But it’s an interesting thing if you read it. It’s a book much more about the left tackle and the defensive end than it is about Michael Oher. It’s an interesting book but Chris Doleman was one of the feature guys in it that took over games, dominated games. I think of all of his statistics. Sacks, that’s the big word in football but I think the one thing that’s even more important was the fact that he had 45 caused fumbles. That’s unheard of. I don’t know if it’s a record but I can’t imagine anyone could have had more. What he had, what Chris had, was unbelievable get-off but he had even more than that. For a guy his height, to have the body lean and the body control that he had, as you see some of these defensive ends running by quarterbacks, behind them, you see them almost run into the locker room sometimes they are so far out of control. But this guy had so much body control that he could back door the quarterback. In fact, I used a term in coaching, “back door,” and I got it because I coached Chris Doleman, that’s where I got the term. He could back door quarterbacks and that’s how he knocked so many balls out of their hands and caused fumbles. Let me just say this, I learned a lot of things in coaching and in coaching Chris, and one of them was if you’ve got a goose that lays golden eggs, you don’t mess with the goose and this guy had wonderful skills and I learned more from him than he ever learned from me because he had the ability to do so many things that were special and the other thing I learned from him was that great players are at their best when you need them the most and Chris Doleman came through so many times and I could give you stories. We don’t have time for stories but what he did when he needed him to do it. It’s a privilege for me to introduce a guy that’s so worthy of the Hall of Fame and for me, a thrill to coach. He was a great player, Chris Doleman.
Good afternoon everyone. First of all, let me start off by saying I want to thank the Wilf family, the Viking family. They have been more than hospitable. It’s been a wonderful run. When I got the call (to the HOF), I got two calls. One from Kevin Warren and the other one from Zygi Wilf and I’m still trying to get a feel for what all this means. You really can’t get your arms around it. It’s a lot of travel, I can tell you that right now. You don’t get much rest but it is truly an amazing opportunity that I have right now and like I said, I want to thank the Wilf family from the bottom of my heart and the Vikings; Leslie (Frazier), the team, how they’ve just kind of rallied around me and supported me. I know that I was going through the Ring of Honor piece and George Stewart told me, he said, ‘Chris, once you’re inducted into the Ring of Honor, the following year you’re going to make the Hall of Fame.’ He said it happened for Randall McDaniel, happened for John Randle, and I think Carl Eller and sure enough, it happened. This last year has just been amazing. Back in June when it started, when they announced that I was going to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, then going through the process in October and then obviously going into the Hall of Fame here in February. It’s pretty humbling.
Q: You said the night you got the call that you went numb. Has it started to settle in?
A: It’s still very fresh. It’s still raw. My process and everyone’s process in this selection is different. For example, Cris Carter has been sitting there as a finalist for four years. I spent five years as a semifinalist, then I went into no-man’s land, what they call non-consideration. Last year in Dallas, I was under that non-consideration. They couldn’t even bring my name up in the room. This year, I was in the final 10 and obviously selected into the Hall. It’s a process that you really can’t get your arms around. I think there is an ebb and flow of the whole thing that I don’t know, I think the writers and the selectors kind of feel that this is what we have to do to make this thing successful, and I’m talking about the Hall, and keep the credibility and integrity in place. I think that they do a fairly decent job. You have to keep in mind that these are human beings that are making these decisions. It took them seven hours and 37 minutes to pick five guys. Seven hours and 37 minutes to pick five guys, that’s a long time just to figure it out because everyone is deserving, everyone who is on that list, even the ones who are on the non-consideration list, they’re all deserving to go into the Hall or they wouldn’t be there. They all have great numbers but I thank God that they chose me. I don’t think you can influence them on any way of how to go because like I said, you have 44 guys who have to choose five players. It’s a very humbling process, it really is.
Q: I remember when you switched from linebacker to defensive end. At first, you really didn’t want to do that. Is that correct?
A: That process, I think it was in ’86 and what happened was I had just finished my rookie year. I was playing linebacker in 1986 and all of a sudden we were making a run for the playoffs and sure enough, Mark Mullaney went down and they asked, ‘Can you rush the passer?’ Went ahead and did it, had some success. I’m not sure if we made the playoffs or not but the following year they said, ‘Look, you looked pretty good at this position. Would you want to do it here on out?’ There’s contractual things, there’s a lot of stuff that comes into play and I was just starting to get a feel for the linebacker position because I never played in a 3-4 (defense) in a way that they were playing it here and when I was at the University of Pittsburgh, I was standing up at defensive end and rushing the passer. When you’re playing a pure 3-4, you’re dropping off curl to flat and you’re doing a lot of different things and the rhythm of the game isn’t the same. When I did move down to that position, it felt like home, it really did. Down in and down out, you just rush the passer and you play the run and we had a great group of guys that could do that; Keith Millard, Henry Thomas, John Randle, Doug Martin, Roy Barker. Our defensive line was probably one of the strongest parts of our team, and I don’t want to forget Al Noga as well, but these are the kind of guys that knew we were a big part of this team and this is what we had to do to be successful for our team to be successful.
Q: What are the range of emotions that come with all of those years of waiting, did it ever feel like you weren’t ever going to get in?
A: Well, no. Jack Butler might have felt like he wasn’t going to get it, he waited all of what, 50 years? I felt that I was close. Where I finished in my career amongst defensive linemen, 3rd all time, anyone who has ever played, linebackers and everyone else, 4th all time. If you’re in the top 5, you kind of figure that you’re in some pretty elite company and you feel that it’s going to happen for you. I didn’t want to wait 8 or 9 years, but I know that I appreciate it more now than I would have when I was 38 or 40 years old. You’re just much more mature, you understand what all this means and you know where you’re going in your life. I think the Hall affords you an opportunity that very, very, very few people get to experience. I’m so proud and happy that they play this game here in America because it is American made. It is an American brand. Americans play it; it’s not an international game like baseball, basketball or hockey. And the people here, in this country, absolutely love it. No matter where you walk through. I mean, going through the airport in Atlanta or here in Minneapolis, I got congratulations. They recognize you. I mean, they recognized you before, but there are just so many football fans in this country that you really get the most out of it.
Q: I know you were at the Super Bowl, but what have you done and who have you talked to since then?
A: Oh gosh. I got home yesterday. I was home for maybe about 14 hours and then I was on the plane here today. I literally left last Thursday and we did media row on Friday. Saturday was the announcement. Saturday night I went down to the hotel where they host us. Sunday, went to the game and did all the fanfare stuff there. Monday, meetings. Tuesday, meetings. Wednesday, I was going to leave to come home. What’s today, Thursday? Well then Wednesday I did leave to come home, so there you go. Drove home Wednesday from Indianapolis, got a haircut, packed some more bags and got on the plane and came here. That’s what I’ve done.
Q: What were the meetings on Monday and Tuesday?
A: Well you have orientation. Floyd Little and his wife stayed behind, they welcomed us into the Hall. They explained what it really means to them, and what it will mean to you. And then you start right away, breaking down things. As Tammy Owens said, she’s one of the lead people at the Hall, it’s like planning a wedding. You’re looking at invitations, guest lists, parties, food, the speech; the whole shooting match. It takes a long time to go through it. They give you a book about this thick, about an inch and a half thick. And they go through it page by page by page. You know, how do you coordinate who’s coming from where. It’s a mess.
Q: Two days of that, do you feel like you were back in the League?
A: Oh, it was meetings for two days, and I’m saying we did six hours the first day. We started at four and we had dinner in there too. We never left the room, they brought dinner in there. I think we got done around 10:30, close to 11. Then we started the next day at 8:00, or 8:30. We got done around noon or one, somewhere around there. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that has to be covered.
Q: You’re now going to HOF after your name forever, has it sunk in yet?
A: No, because I haven’t had a chance to absorb it. I’ve been going from one thing to another. I’ve been talking so much to a point where I’ve lost my voice. Every radio station, every national radio station, Sirius XM, I’ve done it. I was doing an interview on an internet station last night and I think I had to call in or they called me at like 10:15 at night. Everybody wants a piece of me right now. I know the local stations back in Atlanta want to do a piece, but I haven’t been home to even do anything. I’m doing that on Saturday, so it will air on Sunday. So, it’s just nonstop. The HOF piece is wonderful, but they say you really enjoy it the second year more than the first year because you’re constantly doing these types of things. Before now when I would give my opinion, it was just a player’s opinion. Now, it’s a Hall of Famer’s opinion. So, I’m the same guy.
Q: Do you know who’s going to introduce you yet?
A: Yes, my son, Evan. He’s 21; he’ll be 22 at the time, his birthday is in April. He’s just stoked about it. He’s really excited. There are a couple things that happen when you see your name come up on the screen. You get a couple calls, and then your phone literally goes into convulsions. You got phone calls, you got texts and you got e-mails all coming in at the same time. When you would click on the text button, it was coming in pages, not one at a time. It was literally coming in pages. I had never seen that before in my life. It would clock 150 and then you turn it off, and when you turn it back on it would clock another 100. It was unbelievable. So, at that point in time, I knew something big had happened, you know. Because anybody I had ever met in my life was sending me some kind of communication.
Q: When you look at the League today, do you see a lot of your influence?
A: I’m not that kind of guy. I mean, Joe Delamielleure said that when he was coaching, and he’s a Hall of Famer from Cleveland and Buffalo, when he was coaching college football, players wanted to line up like me and have a stance like me. I don’t recognize that kind of stuff. I would like to think that you have some type of influence on players. That you kind of set a tempo or set that bar. But, for me to sit up here and say, oh he’s trying to play like Michael Jordan, or he’s trying to play like me, or he’s trying to do this or he’s trying to do that. I don’t look through those eyes that way. I think that if a player’s a great player,
Q: It seems like the Hall of Fame selection committee has an appreciation for pass rushers, in the last five years at least one pass rusher has been elected into the Hall. Did you get a feel for that when you were there?
A: The Hall is pretty much made of 70% offensive players. I think there was a time when it was all about needing names, faces, and all this other stuff, so you had running backs and quarterbacks and wide receivers. People forgot about the O-line, D-line, defensive backs, this is a team sport. Your contributions are looked at across the board as a team. One writer told me they were going to put in a pass rusher. Who? He didn’t tell me, which he didn’t know because it was before they met. I think they are trying to balance it out a little bit, everybody talks about offense, and everybody sits in the stands and says well ‘if we only had a defense’. Well if you don’t want to see points scored, you have to have someone to be able to stop that. You can’t just have someone running up and down the field. Whoever has the ball last is going to end up scoring; you can’t have that, that’s not a balanced league. I think they want to bring some kind of balance to it. I don’t think they are saying, ‘well we are now just going to focus on the defensive side of the ball’, but you can’t say anything bad about Willie Roaf or Cortez Kennedy. I haven’t seen Jack Butler play, but he must have been a good player if they are considering him, even today. Curtis Martin, can’t say anything bad about him; the guy, for the first 10 years in the League, ran for 1,000 yards. Everybody that they have chosen, they went through a very rigorous and thorough program to figure out, ‘is this the best five guys we can put in?’ They know that the wide receiver corps is packed up, and it’s only going to become more, as Marvin Harrison comes on board and some of these other guys. I feel sorry for those guys, I really do. Imagine you are going to a place and they say, ‘hey look you’re a finalist’, and you get down there and they say, ‘well you’re a finalist, but we are not going to consider you, these 10 guys here are going to be the ones we are really going to look at’. That’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow. They are working as feverishly as they can to try and get this thing worked out. Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, I don’t know who is up next year, but I have to think there are other guys that are right around the corner on their heels, it’s a tough position to be in. Like I said, 7 hours and 37 minutes and you have to pick 5 guys, it’s tough.
Q: What would you change about the selection process?
A: I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t know enough about it. We are dealing with human beings, do you turn around and make it like drug testing, where it is just a blind test where you just put in the numbers, then whatever you spit out that’s what you get. I don’t know, but if you did it that way there would be a lot of guys in the Hall that wouldn’t be in the Hall. You throw for 30,000 yards and you throw for 60,000 yards, which one do you think is going to go in? The 30,000 yard guy might still be waiting around trying to get in. I know that championships in certain people’s eyes mean a lot, but you also have to consider if you take that player and put him in an environment that isn’t as productive and take the non-productive environment player and put him in the productive environment, how good would that team be? There are just a lot of variables that you have to consider when you do this.
Q: Paul Wiggin mentioned your knack for coming up in big games, what was it about games with the playoffs on the line or prime time games that stood out? Was it something that you recognized as your career went on?
A: Well you just said it, its prime time. I played for God, family and teams. My teammates were very important to me, but I always knew that I wanted to honor God. I never wanted to embarrass my family by playing bad, doing something that would bring shame to them, and my teammates, I owed that to them. I owed them the best performance that I could give them, week in week out. If you looked at the schedule and looked at my practice schedule, you will see that I didn’t miss very many practice days. I practiced and played as much as I could. I had the great fortune of playing with, and practicing against, Gary Zimmerman and Randall McDaniel, and my partner was either Keith Millard or John Randle, and we were out there every day. Those guys didn’t take time off, I didn’t take time off, we made each other better. That’s one of the things about being a great player, I feel uncomfortable saying stuff like that, but you have to work every day. I know Allen Iverson was saying ‘practice, what’s practice?’, well you practice how you play, or you play the way your practice, if you go out there and don’t go hard at practice, you probably aren’t going to play very well.
Q: Players like to envision going to the NFL, playing in the Super Bowl, was it ever in the back of your mind that the Hall of Fame would be there, when did you start thinking it was a possibility?
A: I never thought about it. The Hall of Fame never came into play until the end of my career. As a player, heck I didn’t even know I was close to 100 sacks. When I was in Atlanta, it was against the Saints, they stopped the game and gave me a game ball and said you just went over 100 sacks. I didn’t know that. I never kept records of how many sacks I had, obviously you know your Pro Bowls and your All-Pros and those kinds of things, but I was never a stat guy that would think I need to get to this point to have this in my career. I just played and whatever happens, happened.
Q: Sometimes guys use their Hall of Fame speech as a platform to speak about things, what do you anticipate you will talk about in your speech?
A: You get 8-10 minutes to talk, there are a lot of things you want to discuss, I think, at this point in time, and I think I owe it to the people who were influential in my life, to acknowledge them to recognize them, to thank them publicly. Paul Wiggin, Floyd Peters, John Teerlinck, these gentlemen, Bud Grant, literally transcend my career, where this is how you become a professional, this is how you have to play, you have to be an entity within yourself, you don’t let your environment dictate your behavior. All these things that coaches constantly say, and out of that whole group; Paul Wiggin was the smartest by far; it was a situation where you learned to overcome certain things. When you have coaches like that, there was no one who liked rushing the passer more than Floyd Peters and John Teerlinck. You learn how to become that professional you believe that you can be. That’s why you play the game. That’s why you practice so hard during the week. So to have that, where you have these kinds of influences on your life and in your career, I don’t think you just glaze over that. I think you have to really acknowledge it and go on. I started playing when I was eight years old. I retired when I was 38 years old, so it was a whole life of this sport. It feels good to step away, and come back 12 years later and see that this is what was waiting for you.