Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
Dent finding goals
Originally published Nov. 29, 1985
Richard Dent started dreaming about this kind of season when he was a chubby little kid.
“I thank the Lord every night before I go to sleep,” says Dent, who leads the 12-0 Bears with 10 sacks. “We all set goals, but we all don’t reach them.”
When he was in grade school, Dent was like millions of other kids who’d love to be a pro football star but don’t have a chance. “I thought about it all the time,” he says, but he played only in the streets and vacant lots of the neighborhood in Atlanta.
There wasn’t time for the school team. Dent had to work, had to help bring home money for the family of nine children. By ninth grade, he had his own bank account. “Not much, but I was on a roll,” he says.
He was growing, too. When he was no longer chubby or little, his cousin down the street told him he would have all his life to work. It was time to see if he could play.
“I never really wanted to try out for a team,” Dent says. “I was afraid, like most kids. I was afraid I’d get cut.”
He didn’t get cut. After two years of high school ball, he was good enough for Tennessee State. He was the second Dent child who went to college. When the school moved him to defense from the offensive line, that was his first inkling that he might be on to something he could do for a career.
“A lot of guys were coming out of Tennessee State, but a lot of guys weren’t making it in the pros,” he says. “I couldn’t understand it. They were guys with a hell of a lot of talent.
“I don’t know if they were too flashy, or what. Maybe they came into a bad spot. If you come into a bad spot, it’s hard to make a ballclub.”
Dent didn’t come into a great spot when the Bears drafted him. He was an eighth-round choice. NFL teams discard eighth-round choices as easily as they toss out torn towels.
But he came to a team that needed an outside pass rusher. Dent always could rush a passer. He would have to prove he was better than an eighth-rounder, but that was no problem.
“I always felt when it came down to pressure, I’m one of the best at it,” he says. “Most people say pressure busts the pipe. With me, pressure continues flowing through the pipe.”
He made the Pro Bowl in only his second season. He took his mother with him to Hawaii last January. He pinched himself. Several times, he says.
“This is a lucky game for all athletes,” Dent says. “There are so many colleges, so many players. Just to be drafted, you’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to be blessed.
“You see what it can do for you, what kind of money it can make for you. You look at most students coming out of college. They can’t make 50 or 60 thousand a year.”
A few weeks ago, Dent left the impression he didn’t appreciate all that. He went to a post-victory press conference and rained on the team’s parade with tears about his unresolved contract status. Just another greedy athlete, people said.
No, says Dent. Business is business. He had come to training camp with the Bears’ promise to negotiate a new contract, and it’s still being negotiated. He felt betrayed.
“If I didn’t do the work, everybody would be on my butt,” he says. “If I do it, I want to be paid for it.”
That’s the business of football. But the game, that’s different.
The game is what put Dent on the same Pro Bowl team with Jan Stenerud, a player he had watched and admired when he was a chubby little kid.
The game is what put him in the same uniform as Walter Payton. “That’s a guy who inspires me,” he says. “It gives you a lift just to watch him carry the football.”
The game is what lets him measure his accomplishments against the all-time best. Seven sacks in a game, for example. No NFL player has done that. Dent wants to be the first. “I’ve got to go out and make it happen,” he says.
The game is what gives him a chance to play in the Super Bowl. He thinks about that often.
“That’s why we can’t be laughing it up about where we are,” he says. “We’re not there yet.
“But once you get that far, you’re, `Oh, I can’t believe it. One day I was here. Now I’m on top of the world.’ ”
The game gives him goals.
“Once you reach one of your main goals, it’s almost unbelievable,” Dent says of the Pro Bowl. He has more, too. “When I finish, I want people to speak of Richard Dent, the best defensive lineman, the best pass rusher.”
He wants to break records. He wants to make the Hall of Fame. The Bears have given him the chance. “You’ve got to keep pushing yourself,” he says.