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Hall of Famer Doug Atkins dies at age 85

Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins passed away in Knoxville, Tennessee, at the age of 85 on Wednesday, the Hall of Fame confirmed.

An eight-time Pro Bowl selection and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-1960s Team, Atkins teamed with Baltimore Colts legend Gino Marchetti to revolutionize the defensive end position in the era prior to the Super Bowl and NFL merger.

At 6-foot-8 and nearly 260 pounds, Atkins was a relentless goliath on the punishing Chicago Bears teams that lived up to the "Monsters of the Midway" moniker of the 1950s and '60s.

Bears chairman George H. McCaskey released a statement on Atkins' passing:

"Doug Atkins is an all-time great who will be remembered as one of the pillars of the 1963 Championship Bears. He had a freakish combination of size and athletic ability and was as tough as anyone who ever stepped on a football field. Doug wasn't afraid to offer his opinion off the field as well and had a unique communication style when it came to interacting with Coach Halas. He embodied the spirit and commitment of what it means to be a Bear. Our prayers are with Doug's wife, Sylvia, and their family."

After helping the Tennessee Volunteers to a national championship in college, Atkins was the ringleader on the Bears' 1963 Championship team -- the organization's last NFL title prior to the 1985 Super Bowl Shuffle squad.

Atkins led the Bears' punishing defense for 12 years, specializing in leap-frogging blockers to terrorize quarterbacks. Exceptionally strong and agile for his size, he wreaked havoc at the line of scrimmage in much the same way that J.J. Watt does today.

Hall of Fame coach George Allen credited Atkins as "the first great pass rusher."

"Doug was a big, tough man whose extraordinary greatness dominated the field of play during a legendary 17-year career that earned him a bronzed bust in Canton," Hall of Fame President David Baker said in a statement. "He also possessed a tender heart and always epitomized with grace the many values he learned from the game such as dedication, teamwork, commitment, and respect. The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns Doug's passing and will keep his wife Sylvia and family in our thoughts and prayers and forever guard his legacy in Canton."

For modern fans of NFL Films, Atkins is perhaps best remembered as the inspiration for an especially creative Steve Sabol-John Facenda collaboration.

"Doug Atkins was like a storm blowing over a Kansas farm house," Facenda famously intoned in 1983. "He came from all directions. All you could do was to tie down what you could and hope he didn't take the roof."

Former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who spent much of his career running from Atkins, raved about the pass rusher as a "physical marvel of our era." Former Colts and Packers center Bill Curry echoed that sentiment, conjuring up words such as "Olympus" as "Zeus" to describe the most menacing defensive lineman of the pre-Super Bowl era.

By the time he retired with the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1969, Atkins had played a then-record 17 seasons and 205 games. He hip-tossed an offensive lineman and sacked the quarterback on the very last play of his storied career.

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