The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the 2016 class of inductees Saturday afternoon, and Eddie DeBartolo is kind of a high profile finalist. He is in the special "contributor" category that was altered to push him straight through to the finalist stage. While the regular finalists will compete for 5 spots, DeBartolo faces only an up/down vote. The rule requires 80 percent support to induct him, so it is simply yes or no.
On Thursday, Steve Young had a chance to talk about DeBartolo's case during ESPN media availability. He gave an impassioned case for DeBartolo that went beyond the Super Bowls. He gave a fantastic response for how he changed the fabric of the NFL, and how that has been important to the huge success of the league. Here is what Young had to say about DeBartolo's case:
I'm obviously as big a proponent, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. I think it was Ira Miller who pounded into my head that you make the Hall of Fame because if you write the book of the NFL, and it can't be written without you, that was his thing. And no matter how you feel about Eddie, the thing that he did, and I witnessed it personally, and I actually witnessed it in contrast to Tampa Bay, I witnessed it in the 1987 strike. And I think it was Wellington Mara, I don't know if it was him, but I wanna saw it was somebody from the Giants, I'm not sure. But during the strike they said, sooner or later these players gotta realize that we're the owners and they're the chattel.
I thought at the time, that's the problem. The problem with the NFL, and it holds us back. Eddie completely ripped up that narrative. And people may be jealous of that, might be frustrated by that, might not like it, might feel like it was not right, but he tore it up. He and his players were family, to this day. Dan Brown wrote a great article the other day, with some snippets. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Still, if you need something from Eddie, anybody who ever played for the team could call him. Call him personally, and he would figure out a way to help them.
And so, that relationship, that fundamental change in how owners looked at players, and how they related to each other, I think changed the dynamic for how the CBA was negotiated 15 years later. How players are now true partners, they're truly partners with the owners. Might not be perfect, but there's a partnership that has exploded the success of the league. The only non-partner who still needs to be a partner is the referees. But that partnership, I think was forged by Eddie breaking down the barrier between player and owner. Robert Kraft, name any owner that is thriving. He may not see he was influenced, but it broke the ice to allow for owners to have that kind of relationship with the players.
In my mind, that's a long-winded story, but it's a case I want to make, because you can say, oh but this, oh but that. That's fine, don't vote for him, if you think that's the problem. But if that's not the problem, there's no question in my mind that you cannot write the history of the NFL without talking about what he did for the game. That's away from even Super Bowls, and all that other stuff. It's about what he did for the NFL. And I see the team's that are thriving, I see owners walking the sidelines, that are interjecting themselves with the players. They are part of the fabric, that was unheard of before Eddie DeBartolo.