Chris Doleman, who had been dealing with brain cancer for the last two plus years, passed on Tuesday night. One of the first things I thought of when I heard the news was that he was perhaps the first NFL player to carry a briefcase to the locker room.
“The briefcase thing, it was funny,” said former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel. “That was Chris, and we all joked about the briefcase too. But it was all about trying to show the young guys how to be professional, to understand that this is your job now.”
On the football field, Doleman was all business, at least, once the Vikings figured out how to use him. Drafted with the fourth overall selection out of Pitt University in 1985, Doleman had played as a stand-up linebacker in college, but through trial and error, the Vikings moved him to defensive end and asked him to go after the quarterback, with spectacular results.
Quarterback sacks have only been recorded since the 1982 season. So, while Viking legends Alan Page and Carl Eller were the foundation of the Vikings celebrated “Purple People Eaters” defense of the late 1960’s and 70’s, it’s Doleman who ranks fifth all-time with 150.5 career QB sacks. Which, brings us back to the briefcase.
“We gave him a hard time about the briefcase,” said McDaniel. “But, there was a message in it for the young guys and that was that you need to take it seriously, you need to know what’s going to be happening on that field and with everything around you, and Chris helped a lot of young guys understand that.”
Young guys tend to listen to a player who is named first team All-Pro three times, makes the second team two times and is a Pro Bowl player eight times in a 15-year career. But, it also goes a long way when the same guy goes way beyond carrying a briefcase to show his teammates how to play the game the right way.
“In that locker room, he was the guy that everybody loved to be around. He was always cracking jokes and keeping people laughing along the way with the things he would say and the things he would do. He was just the consummate team player,” McDaniel said.
This past September, the Vikings invited every former player back for a reunion, and Doleman, despite dealing with brain cancer, not only made it to the reunion, but he also made the effort to join Randall and Marianne McDaniel for their first golf tournament fundraiser called ‘Open Arms Home for Children’ in Komga, Africa.
“When I last saw Chris at the golf tournament I told him that I loved him,” said Randall. “I wanted to make sure that he knew that, and I was glad that he was able to come out, and all I wanted to do was to make sure that he knew that I cared about him and that I was thinking about him.”
At the golf tournament, I remember thinking how hard it was to see Doleman, who at one time appeared as if he was cut straight out of the pages of Marvel comics, confined to a wheelchair, struggling with his speech and his movement.
But, McDaniel and his fellow Viking Hall of Famers knew what a fighter Chris Doleman was, and they thought they would have at least one more chance to get together to laugh about the good old days. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.
“I assumed I would see him at least one more time,” said Randall. “I assumed I would see him at the hotel before the Super Bowl, but God had a plan for him, and he called him back, but, it’s hard.”