Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end and Pitt great Chris Doleman died on Tuesday night after spending the last two years battling brain cancer. The news of his passing was delivered by his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, overnight. Doleman was 58 years old and spent the first nine years of his pro career in Minnesota after graduating from Pitt in 1985.
”The Minnesota Vikings express our deepest sympathies to Chris Doleman’s family and friends upon his passing,” the team said. “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. Chris always carried himself with dignity and class. Vikings fans worldwide will greatly miss him.”
Doleman came to Pitt in 1981, after attending William Penn High School in York, Pennsylvania, as well as Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. At Pitt, Doleman joined a program in the midst of its greatest period of success and played alongside other greats like Dan Marino, Bill Fralic and Jimbo Covert.
The sack artist would go on to have an illustrious pro career after being selected by the Vikings in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft with the fourth overall pick. Doleman would post 21 sacks in the 1989 season. At the time, that single-season total was paralleled only by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Reggie White, who logged 21 sacks two years before, and it was bested only by New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, who ranked first all time with 22 sacks in 1984.
Today, Doleman’s 1989 sack total ranks fifth all time, but he went on to accrue a total of 150.5 sacks in a 15-year NFL career that included stints with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers after nearly a decade in Minneapolis. His career sack total currently ranks as the fifth highest in NFL history.
During his career, Doleman earned All-Pro honors on five occasions between 1987 and 1993, including three first-team selections. He was also an eight-time Pro Bowler who would eventually be honored with induction into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2011 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He looked back fondly on his time at Pitt during his induction speech, crediting several Panthers coaches for their role in his success.
“Jackie Sherrill, Foge Fazio, Joe Moore ... they challenged me every day,” Doleman said. “They brought out the very best in me, things that I never even knew I had inside me. ... The University of Pittsburgh set a standard that is second to none.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker issued a statement on Doleman and his legacy after news broke of his death.
”The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Chris Doleman after a prolonged and courageous battle against cancer," Baker said. "I had the honor of getting to know him not only as a great football player but an outstanding human being. One of the honors of my life was witnessing Chris get baptized in the Jordan River during a Hall of Fame trip to Israel. 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.”