MINNEAPOLIS — Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman, whose enviable blend of speed and power made him one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers during 15 seasons in the league, has died. The longtime Minnesota Vikings star, who had 150½ career sacks to rank fifth on the all-time list, was 58.
The Vikings and the Pro Football Hall of Fame expressed their condolences in separate statements confirming Doleman's death on Tuesday night. Doleman had surgery two years ago to remove a brain tumor after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of cancer that killed U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2018.
The diagnosis and surgery kept Doleman from attending Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, requiring a five-week hospital stay in Atlanta, but later that year he was able to travel to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony that included former teammate Randy Moss. That fall, he married his wife, LaTresa Doleman, and they traveled to Minnesota together for the team's Ring of Honor induction ceremony for the late Dennis Green, one of his coaches with the Vikings.
“Just the thought of catching up with everybody pulls you through those dark times,” Doleman said then in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Doleman returned to U.S. Bank Stadium as recently as last October, for the Ring of Honor induction for former teammate Steve Jordan. Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel pushed Doleman to and from the on-field ceremony in a wheelchair.
Doleman, an Indianapolis native who played in college at Pittsburgh before being drafted by the Vikings with the fourth overall pick in 1985, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
He converted from linebacker to defensive end and spent his first nine seasons with the Vikings, collecting a league-high 21 sacks in 1989 while forming a fierce pass-rushing tandem with defensive tackle Keith Millard, who had 18 sacks himself that year for the NFC North champions. He was a two-time first-team All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowl selection who played in 232 of a possible 236 regular-season games.
The 6-foot-5 Doleman played two seasons for Atlanta and three seasons with San Francisco before returning to Minnesota to finish his career in 1999.
“Chris was a great example for players past and present, as he embodied all the best characteristics of a Viking — resilience, toughness and a competitive spirit," the Vikings said. “Chris always carried himself with dignity and class. Vikings fans worldwide will greatly miss him."
Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said witnessing Doleman's baptism in the Jordan River during a Hall of Fame trip to Israel was “one of the honors” of his life.
“The legacy of Chris Doleman will live forever in Canton, Ohio, for generations to learn from how he lived a life of courage and character," Baker said.
Former Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, another fellow Hall of Famer, played with Doleman from 1990-93 and again in 1999. Carter joined Doleman for that Jordan River baptism.
“Another great man gone,” Carter tweeted on Wednesday. “Today will be tough.”
Kansas City coach Andy Reid, in Miami for preparations for the Super Bowl on Sunday, was tasked with trying to defend Doleman for years while working with Green Bay's offensive line.
"He was a phenomenal player," Reid said.
Chiefs linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is 11 1/2 sacks and three places behind Doleman on the all-time list, grew up in the Twin Cities rooting for the Vikings and told reporters at the Super Bowl on Wednesday that Doleman inspired him to wear No. 56 in youth football.
“He was one of the main reason I played defensive end,” Suggs said