SANTA CLARA The battle between the 49ers and Giants rages on.
In a meeting room at the Indianapolis JW Marriott today, 44 NFL writers from around the country will debate which 15 modern-day Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists deserve a bust in the hall. Two of the most recognizable names: former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., and Bill Parcells, the former Giants coach.
The problem is that neither man played in the NFL, and getting a single non-player much less two into a Hall of Fame class is difficult.
One voter said Friday that either Parcells or DeBartolo would have to be eliminated in the first round of voting or they would cancel each other during the final vote. Another said DeBartolo's chances are "probably better than 50-50." Others are more skeptical.
Adding to the debate is a provincial split that pits West Coast voters, who favor DeBartolo, against East Coast voters, who will side with Parcells.
Parcells, who compiled a 183-138-1 record as a head coach, was the first man to take four separate teams to the playoffs, and he won two Super Bowls with the Giants. Parcells also was a finalist in 2001 and 2002 but was not selected because voters suspected correctly that his retirement at the time would not last.
This is the first time that DeBartolo, the 49ers' owner from 1977 to 2000, is a finalist, and thus the first time that voters will debate his candidacy.
The argument against him is threefold, according to voters.
The first is that, unlike other owners already in the Hall of Fame, such as the late Al Davis of the Raiders, DeBartolo did not have an impact on the formation of the league and merely wrote checks for talented lieutenants such as John McVay, Bill Walsh and George Seifert.
Others cite the Louisiana gambling scandal of 1997 that eventually caused DeBartolo to relinquish control of the team to his sister, Denise, and her husband, John York.
Supporters note that DeBartolo was the victim in that case former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards extorted $400,000 from him to win a casino license and that DeBartolo has since been exonerated by the NFL.
The third knock on DeBartolo involves salary cap violations in the late 1990s that resulted in $900,000 in fines and the loss of two 49ers draft picks. Supporters argue that if that type of mischief prevents an owner from reaching the Hall of Fame, it will make it difficult for future candidates, such as Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose team was embroiled in the "Spygate" scandal, to be inducted in coming years.
This year appears to be an excellent one for a non-player such as Parcells or DeBartolo to get into the Hall of Fame because there are no shoo-in players, such as Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith. And there is precedent for two non-football classmates: Both a coach, Don Shula, and an owner, the Giants' Wellington Mara, were inducted in 1997.
The best argument for DeBartolo: His teams made it to the playoffs 16 times, won 13 division titles, played in 10 championship games and became the first to win five Super Bowls. During that time, DeBartolo set a standard in the modern era, not just in the NFL but in all of professional sports, in the spare-no-expenses way he ran his club.
A number of current owners including the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, the Patriots' Kraft and the Broncos' Pat Bowlen sought DeBartolo's counsel upon purchasing their clubs.
And DeBartolo remains influential with the man now running the 49ers, his nephew Jed York, with whom he speaks regularly.
"He's been one of the greatest owners in the history of professional sports," York said this week. "And he's been a great inspiration to me and many people involved with sports."