Fred Dean, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a driving force behind the 49ers' first Super Bowl championship, passed away Wednesday night. He was 68.
Dean had been hospitalized and in intensive care while battling COVID-19, former 49ers teammate Dwight Hicks posted on Facebook on Oct. 8.
"I am heartbroken by the sudden passing of my dear friend, Fred Dean," Hall of Famer and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo said in a statement released Thursday morning. "He was a humble, kind and quiet giant, with a smile as big as he was. The greatness of the 49ers truly began with Fred’s arrival in San Francisco.
"He never said very much, but when our defense needed him to make a big play, we looked to Fred and he never let us down. He leaves behind a Hall of Fame legacy both on and off the field and will be greatly missed. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Pam, his children and his entire family."
Bill Walsh engineered an early-season 1981 trade for Dean from the San Diego Chargers that proved to be a landmark event that led toward the 49ers' first Super Bowl.
In his first game with the 49ers, Dean recorded three sacks, two quarterback hurries and two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in the 49ers' eye-opening 45-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers would go on to beat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game that season -- a game best remembered for Dwight Clark and Joe Montana teaming up for "The Catch."
Dean earned two Pro Bowls apiece with the Chargers and the 49ers. He was a key invaluable member of the 49ers' first two Super Bowl title teams.
Dean entered the NFL in 1975 as a second-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech and played the first years of his career when sacks were not an official NFL statistic.
As a situational pass rusher playing the "elephant" position, Dean had six sacks in a 1983 game against the New Orleans Saints. He registered 17.5 sacks that season.
Dean was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 in his 18th year of eligibility.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Fred Dean," Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement. "He exemplified many of the values learned from this great game – commitment, integrity, courage – over the course of his life.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Fred’s wife, Pam, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Fred’s memory.”