Richard Dent talks about life after football, concussions
"The Sackman's comin', I'm your man Dent. If the quarterback's slow, he's gonna get bent." — Richard Dent's introduction in "Super Bowl Shuffle" video by 1985 Chicago Bears.
With his team record 137½ sacks, Richard "The Sackman" Dent has "bent" more opposing team quarterbacks than any other Chicago Bear in the franchise's 93-year history.
Dent book signings
Richard Dent will be appearing at suburban stores to sign copies of his book "Blood, Sweat & Bears: Putting a 'Dent' in the Game I Love," written with Fred Mitchell and published by Ascend Books.
Friday, Dec. 7: 10:30 a.m. until noon at Costco, 2900 Patriot Blvd., Glenview.
Saturday, Dec. 8: 2 to 3 p.m. at Anderson's Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville.
The lightning-quick 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end badgered, battered, bruised and brutalized a bevy of quarterbacks during a 15-year NFL career that earned him a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy and a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Be careful. It's broken. I'm sorry," Dents says as he hands over his MVP award.
The silver football atop the trophy came loose a while ago, but Dent cradles it easily in the same massive hands that blocked a pass, forced two fumbles and were part of a couple of sacks during the Bears 46-10 Super Bowl XX victory over the New England Patriots.
That award, his Hall of Fame bust and dozens of photographs, trophies and other trophies fill a dark, wood-paneled room off the foyer of the grand home in a gated community in Long Grove where Dent lives with his longtime girlfriend DeEtta Jones and sons, R.J., 7, and Shiloh, 4.
The accommodating Dent talks about his glory years, football, his new book "Blood, Sweat & Bears: Putting a 'Dent' in the Game I Love," the devastating hits he delivered, his many issues with coach Mike Ditka, his fellow Monsters of the Midway, football-related injuries and the recent attention paid to concussions that have knocked the Bears' Devin Hester, Jay Cutler and Shea McClellin out of games this season.
But if you didn't know what he used to do for a living, you might think Dent ran an art gallery.
"I was a commercial art major in college," says Dent, who still expresses a strong fondness for Tennessee State University, the small historically black school in Nashville where he became a college football legend. Dent's home is filled with paintings and pieces of sculpture, many of them created by African-American artists. Some depict life in the South, where Dent grew up with three older brothers, three younger brothers and a sister.
"This is by Ernie Barnes," says Dent, standing before a painting titled "He Ain't Heavy" that depicts an arm reaching down to lift up another man. An animated Dent thumbs through a nearby coffee-table book about the life of Barnes as he talks about how the former NFL player remains better known for his stylized paintings of football scenes, black jazz clubs and the works of art featured on the TV show "Good Times."
"I like to paint," adds Dent, who notes his paintings aren't good enough to hang with the collection he boasts.
On another wall hangs a signed Nelson Mandela lithograph titled "The Window," which shows prison bars partially obscuring a grassy field and mountain. "That's what he saw," Dent says of the famed anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison before becoming president of South Africa.
Dent knows the quiet grace of his art collection wouldn't have been possible without his career of administering violent hits that no doubt delivered a few concussions to his opponents.
"I wasn't out to hurt guys and hurt them for the rest of their lives," Dent says. But the health of the quarterback was the other team's "responsibility," not his.
Dent remembers a game when New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms was talking trash to the Bears defense. The next play, Dent delivered a rejoinder.
"I hit him right in the earhole," says Dent, who often launched himself at quarterbacks. "He went down and they had to walk him off the field. I said, 'Hey, Phil, shake out those cobwebs and get back out here.'"
The NFL doles out fines for illegal hits, but the only penalty levied against Dent came after his playing days when he was a coach in street clothes on the sidelines. A Denver player was about to collide with him and Dent instinctively responded with a forearm shiver that dropped the running back to the ground and earned Dent a $7,500 fine.
Concussions are part of the game, says Dent, who delivered a number of them.
"I actually received them, too," he notes. "It's not something that I kept track of. I had them in practice. I had them in games. It was a common thing."
When Dent, who turns 52 on Dec. 13 (the same day his dad, Horace, turns 80), struggles to come up with the name of a former Bears tight end, he admits that he worries if his memory lapse is just a quirk, a natural part of aging or a symptom of brain damage caused by football collisions.
Long after their careers had ended, Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, whose 260-pounds and punishing running style earned him the nickname "The Nigerian Nightmare," had his own nightmares of one tackle by Dent.
"That was the hardest hit I ever had," Okoye told him.
"Let me tell you something," Dent replied. "That was the hardest hit I ever had."
Barely able to stand up after that collision, Dent's body instinctively made the trip back to the Bears huddle the way a tired person behind a wheel might not remember the route he drove to get home, Dent says. He figures that had to be one of his undiagnosed concussions.
"They asked you three questions. If you got two right, you were back in the game," Dent says.
He recently agreed to donate his brain to the medical staff studying the brains of former football players, such as Dent's friend and former teammate Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011.
"We used to play cards at Dave's house in Mundelein," recalls Dent, who was a pallbearer at Duerson's funeral.
The NFL should provide health insurance and care for players as long as they live, Dent argues. As founder and president of RLD Resources, a company that specializes in energy products as well as voice and data solutions, Dent says he can't stay on the computer or read a book for more than an hour without getting headaches.
"I'm sure it's football related," he says.
The former athlete works with a doctor to control his blood pressure and weight, which he describes as "a biscuit or two" under 300 pounds.
In 1997, after playing at least 18 holes of golf alongside Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in Libertyville, Dent says the trio and one of Jordan's buddies went to Jordan's house and played a pickup basketball game. Dent says he was sore and tired before that game began, while Jordan finished their game and then scored 55 points in a Bulls playoff game that night.
Dent no longer attempts basketball and says he needs days to recover from the pains caused by golf. Having weaned himself off the narcotic painkillers used when he was playing, Dent says he takes over-the-counter painkillers for his lingering aches, including the big toe that popped out of joint during a 1990 game and was treated with a painkilling shot.
"My foot bothers me, circulation, shoulders, elbow, back, hip, head trauma and memory loss," Dent says in listing his ills. He tolerates pain.
In college, after he broke a bone in his left arm and looked as if he'd miss the first game his mother, Mary, would see in person, Dent convinced the coach to play him at the other end of the line where he recorded three sacks with his right arm.
"I don't have any regrets about it," Dent says of his career in a violent sport. "The game gave me many opportunities. I'd play the game again the same way. I'd have played it for free, but they were giving us checks."
His late mother, whose portrait hangs on one wall, worked as a nanny, maid and cook for white families in their home near Atlanta. "If you saw the movie 'The Help,' that's her," says Dent, a self-described "momma's boy" who put pressure on himself to please her. Drugs and violence were a much bigger threat than concussions in his neighborhood. One of Dent's brothers has been in and out of prison.
Dent has two daughters in college from his first marriage, and his 7-year-old son has just started begging to play football. Dent, who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, says his boy is too young for football now. Coaches, young players and parents need to know the symptoms of concussions, Dent stresses.
While he'd like to see the NFL take care of players' health during and after their careers, Dent says he doesn't think concussions and traumatic injuries can be eliminated from the game.
"You propel your body in ways that put you in harm's way, but that's the glory part of the game," he says. Car manufacturers constantly make safety improvements and yet people still get injured and killed in crashes, he notes.
"Athletes want to do what they do," Dent says of football players. "It's a collision sport and it's impossible to make it safe."
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