Early in his career with the Bears, Richard Dent picked up the nickname "Colonel" because it was said that he, like Sanders, focused on one thing (in his case, rushing the opposing quarterback) and did it very well.
Dent's ability to rush the passer made him the most proficient sacker of quarterbacks in Bears history and the sixth most proficient in NFL history. It earned him four trips to the Pro Bowl, a first-team All-Pro nod in 1985, and the Most Valuable Player award for Super Bowl XX. This past Saturday, it also earned him election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Extraordinarily lithe and agile for his size (six-foot-five and 265 pounds), Dent relied more on quickness than brute strength to go around blockers. "He could play at a level that I don't care who you were," former NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden said, "you couldn't block Richard Dent."
Perhaps the man who came closest was Dent's teammate, Jimbo Covert. After he was informed of his election to the Hall of Fame, Dent gave a shout-out to the former All-Pro offensive tackle who might have ended up in Canton himself but for the injuries that shortened his career. "Practicing against him every day," Dent said of Covert, "made the games seem easy."
When he is inducted into the Hall this summer, Dent will become the third member of the 1985 Bears' defense to be enshrined, having been preceded by Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton.
Buddy Ryan, the coordinator of that incomparable defensive unit, has argued that Dent's moniker is misleading, for "the Colonel" didn't simply take off after the quarterback on every play. Ryan often assigned Dent to run away from the quarterback to cover potential receivers. "I used him in coverage a lot, and most defensive ends just rush the passer," Ryan said. "But he paid the price so we could run the defense we wanted to run. He could have had a lot more sacks if I hadn't used him in coverage."
Even when Dent was otherwise occupied, opposing quarterbacks were far from safe. Hampton, Steve McMichael, Mike Hartenstine, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, and Singletary would be swarming from all directions. "It was," New England guard Ron Wooten said, "like trying to beat the tide back with a broom."