San Francisco 49ers

Good and bad: Voters to decide Eddie DeBartolo’s Hall of Fame fate

Then-owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. , right, poses with coach Bill Walsh, quarterback Joe Montana and the Lombardi Trophy after the 49ers’ 1985 Super Bowl win at Stanford.
Then-owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. , right, poses with coach Bill Walsh, quarterback Joe Montana and the Lombardi Trophy after the 49ers’ 1985 Super Bowl win at Stanford. Associated Press file

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is flying every team employee to the Bay Area for the Super Bowl, a gesture that made national headlines when it was announced Monday.

Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. said he chuckled when he heard the news. “Because we did that in 1981,” he said on a conference call Thursday.

The former 49ers owner raised that point when asked if he felt he deserved to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will be decided Feb. 6, one day before the Super Bowl. DeBartolo, 69, was careful to say his fate is in the hands of the voters, but he noted that the largesse that has become commonplace among sports franchises began with his 49ers clubs.

“I know that a lot of teams now are doing things like we did many, many years ago,” he said.

I know that a lot of teams now are doing things like we did many, many years ago.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., former 49ers owner

In September, DeBartolo was nominated for Hall of Fame induction as a contributor. The only other two nominees in that category, former NFL general manager Bill Polian and longtime NFL executive Ron Wolf, were voted in last year, suggesting that DeBartolo stands a good chance of taking that elusive last step in the same city in which he hoisted five Lombardi Trophies. He must receive 80 percent of the votes to get in.

DeBartolo has been a finalist three other times, and he admitted that anxiety over his Hall of Fame fate has been getting him out of bed at 2:45 a.m. each morning.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he said. “Whatever good that I did in the past, whatever bad I did in the past, it all goes together.”

The “bad” is well-documented.

In 1998, DeBartolo pleaded guilty to failing to report an extortion attempt in his effort to acquire a riverboat gambling license in Louisiana. The NFL suspended him for a year, but DeBartolo said Thursday the team was never taken away from him.

Instead, he insisted it was his decision to relinquish ownership to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York and her husband, John York. Their son – and DeBartolo’s godson – Jed York, runs the day-to-day operations of the 49ers. DeBartolo said he decided during a meeting in Akron, Ohio, in 2000 to take the other side of the family company.

“I decided … my tenure with the 49ers would end then and would end there,” he said. “And I don’t know if that story has ever been told. … It really was a choice.”

DeBartolo took over the 49ers in 1977 and almost immediately was criticized as too inexperienced, too rash and too privileged. The 49ers went 2-14 in 1978, went through two head coaches and set a franchise low for scoring in a 16-game season.

The following year, however, DeBartolo made what he has called his best decision as owner, hiring then-Stanford coach Bill Walsh. The 49ers won their first Super Bowl title three years later.

DeBartolo said he decided when he took over the team to make devotion to his employees the cornerstone of how he ran the operation.

DeBartolo presented Walsh during his 1993 Hall of Fame enshrinement. He has done the same for Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Fred Dean and, last summer, Charles Haley.

DeBartolo said he decided when he took over the team to make devotion to his employees the cornerstone of how he ran the operation. He noted he still has relationships, not just with Hall of Famers, but with all of his former players.

“I guess that’s the way I operated, and it will be the way I operate until the day I die,” he said. “I consider every single person, no matter who he was or what he did for the organization, as part of my family.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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