“I couldn’t really put it into words,” Bill Belichick replied when asked his thoughts about Eddie DeBartolo during a teleconference Wednesday. “It goes beyond that.”
Well, actually he could.
The New England Patriots’ coach, famous for his grouchy and terse responses during news conferences, spoke for nearly four minutes about the former 49ers owner, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August and who will be honored at halftime of the 49ers-Patriots game Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
“I have so much respect for Eddie, the organization he built with the 49ers,” Belichick said. “I think his selection in the Hall of Fame is long overdue.”
Belichick said his family’s relationship with DeBartolo goes back a couple of generations. His father, Steve, grew up in Struthers, Ohio, not far from where the DeBartolos lived in Youngstown.
Belichick said DeBartolo’s wife, Candy, was close friends with his grandparents.
“They honestly had a lot to do with the opportunity my dad, and ultimately our family, received,” Belichick said. “I knew Eddie through her. I have tremendous respect for Eddie.”
Belichick’s father, Steve, played one year for the Detroit Lions in 1941, then spent 43 seasons as a college coach, most prominently at Navy.
Bill Belichick also served as an assistant with the New York Giants when, as he described it, every meeting with the 49ers “was a monster game, a playoff game.”
“The conference games, they were always great competition,” he said.
Belichick said he regrets not being on hand for DeBartolo’s enshrinement but has had phone conversations with him since.
“He’s been a great friend. I sought his advice many times,” Belichick said. “He’s always been very candid, open and helpful. I just couldn’t say enough great things about Eddie. I wish that I had the opportunity to work for him. …
“He was truly one of the great owners the league has had. The things that he and coach (Bill) Walsh did were so far ahead of their time. They were tremendous. I look forward to seeing him this weekend and personally being able to congratulate him.”
DeBartolo’s Hall of Fame bust, on loan from Canton, Ohio, will be displayed at the 49ers Museum through Saturday. It will be on the field when DeBartolo is honored Sunday.
Et cetera – Wide receiver Torrey Smith did not practice Wednesday, instead working with a trainer on a side field. The 49ers’ best deep threat on offense has dealt with a back injury for the last three games. His statistics over that span: five catches, 61 yards and no touchdowns.
▪ Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (ankle) returned to practice this week but obviously is still affected by the injury and does not appear ready to play this week. Cornerback Rashard Robinson (knee), who like Lynch has missed the last two games, also was limited in practice but seems further along than Lynch.
▪ Defensive lineman Quinton Dial, who sat out Tuesday’s session, practiced Wednesday but wore a non-contact blue jersey.