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NFL Hall Of Famer Fred Dean Dies At 68

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A San Francisco 49ers legend has died of COVID-19. His name was Fred Dean.

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

In 1981, the 49ers were in the middle of a mediocre season, but some new players joined the ranks and breathed new life into the team. One of those players was Dean.

CORNISH: From the start, he made an impression on teammates. Randy Cross recalled his first time meeting Dean in a documentary called "America's Game: The 1981 San Francisco 49ers."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AMERICA'S GAME: THE 1981 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS")

RANDY CROSS: One of the first times I met Fred, he's laying on a bench in our weight room, smoking a cigarette. And I looked down, and I said, Fred, what are you doing, man? He says, well, I was thinking about lifting weights, but I thought I might lie here till I got over it (laughter).

MOSLEY: Two days after joining the team, it was time to suit up against one of the best teams in the league, the Dallas Cowboys. Coaches said he wouldn't play, but that wasn't the case. Former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. recalled the performance at Dean's Hall of Fame induction.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

EDWARD DEBARTOLO: Oh, did he play. He sacked Danny White three times.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: Down he goes. Fred Dean led the rush into the pack. Fred Dean just swirled back there. Dean inside this time - he's like a rocket.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: That's three in a row.

CORNISH: Dean put on a great performance for that game and the rest of the season. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl, and Dean went on to have a successful seven-year career with four Pro Bowl appearances. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

MOSLEY: During that ceremony, Dean went up to speak and came up against a minor roadblock.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRED DEAN: Well, when I reached up to get my glasses out of my coat pocket, I found that it wasn't the same coat that I had on. I had sent my coat to my wife, and my glasses was in it, so that's when I thought that I'd lost them.

MOSLEY: He couldn't read his notes, so his speech came straight from the heart instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEAN: I'd like to say to all my loved ones, to all those that are here from Louisiana Tech, from Ruston High - I just want to say I love you.

CORNISH: Fred Dean was 68 years old when he died of coronavirus on Oct. 14.

(SOUNDBITE OF VALLIS ALPS SONG, "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.