Earlier this week the 49ers announced the creation of the Edward Debartolo, Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame. Automatic enshrinees included those whose jerseys were retired and/or were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One not so shocking absence from the list was Eddie Debartolo, Jr. Eddie D is not a member of the Hall of Fame for the all too obvious reasons related to his casino issues in Louisiana.
So, it's fitting that the first official inductee into the Hall of Fame (after the automatic enshrinees) will be Edward Debartolo, Jr. His induction will take place at halftime of the team's home opener versus the Seattle Seahawks on September 20, 2009.
We all recognize the unbelievable contributions of Eddie Debartolo to the 49ers franchise. As Jed York put it:
“I can’t think of a single person that is more deserving of this honor than my uncle,” said 49ers Team President Jed York. “With a distinct vision, he took over an average team and transformed it into arguably the greatest dynasty in professional sports over a 20-year span. We are excited to have an opportunity to recognize all of Eddie’s contributions to the 49ers organization during the upcoming season.”
It all began with the hiring of Bill Walsh, but over the course of his ownership he was willing to spend whatever was necessary to turn this franchise into the best in the NFL. His contributions cannot be understated. As great a coach as Bill Walsh was, Eddie D had to be willing to offer him more than he was supposedly allotted. More importantly, he paid top dollar for talent to solidify the team of the 80s.
"This is such a great honor for me,” said DeBartolo. “I would like to thank my nephew Jed and the entire 49ers family for selecting me to be the first member of the 49ers Hall of Fame. I was truly fortunate to have had so many great people around me, starting with my dear friend, and the greatest coach of all time, the late Bill Walsh, and the Hall of Fame players who one day will be inducted alongside me into the 49ers Hall of Fame. I always say I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but I was really born 32 years ago in San Francisco when my family acquired the 49ers."
As for the details of his time as owner? He took over the team in 1977 and in 23 years as owner, he guided the 49ers to a 22-11 postseason record and 13 division titles as San Francisco became the first franchise in NFL history to win five Super Bowl championships (1981, ’84, ’88, ’89 and ’94). The 49ers reached the playoffs on 16 occasions during DeBartolo’s final 18 seasons as owner, posting a 207-72-1 regular season record. In 1989, DeBartolo was honored as the Football News NFL Man of the Year, and he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Again, Bill Walsh deserves credit for finding the right guys for his system, but it's safe to say that most any player who was signed by Eddie DeBartolo loved the man (Charles Haley might be an exception):
"We have witnessed many great owners in sports, but in my mind, there has been no greater owner than Mr. Eddie DeBartolo,” said 49ers great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. “He set the highest standard, and has raised the bar for all the other owners to reach. The way he treated people, the way he built his franchise and the way he won. He made things personal and not many owners make it personal. Mr. D was so filled with pride, so driven and passionate about building the team into something great, and look at what he accomplished: five Super Bowl victories and the building of one of the most dominating franchises in NFL history. He had an enormous impact on all of our lives and his determination to win changed the entire Bay Area forever. Mr. D stands alone at the top."
It is my understanding that the team wants to induct two people into the 49ers Hall of Fame each year. If that is in fact the case, maybe that means a second inductee this year, who might be Jerry Rice? I guess we'll just have to wait and see this offseason.