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Eddie DeBartolo: “You have to do things for people that can’t do things for themselves.”

The former San Francisco 49ers owner talks football and his own generosity on KNBR. A lot of good stuff is in this interview and is worth a listen.

About excitement, the travel party, and how many people are coming:

Well let me see, the travel party can probably fit in old Candlestick Park. Actually, there is a tremendous amount of people, more than I ever would have imagined that are coming. Not just employees and not just players, and there’s really a myriad of players, a lot. But there’s a lot of fans that are coming, which is really gratifying. The girls in the office have been going crazy, but there’s been a lot of requests and a lot of the old time fans and a lot of the new fans are coming. It’s really nice. It should be a really nice affair.

On how he may see old elementary school classmates with the game being 58 miles from Youngstown Ohio (Hometown of the DeBartolo family):

Actually, it’s a little closer. I know the roads better than you do. It’s a shade under 40 miles. And you’re right—there are some people that are coming that I literally went to grade school and for sure high school, because I know there’s a least 30 or 40 of my high school friends coming. And plus, friends from Youngstown that I grew up with.

On how important relationships are with him and the meaningful relationships he’s made with people like Steve Young and Freddie Solomon to name a few:

I think it’s not only an important part, but it was an essential part. I had some tough times when I first came out there, I was just 30 years old and I didn’t know whether a football was blown up or stuffed. I went through my growing pains and was lucky enough in 1979 to hire my dear friend, God rest his soul, Bill Walsh and put together an organization with him with John McVay, great pro and college scouting and had Carmen Policy there. we had a very very thin front office but we got the job done. We had just great people in our front office and obviously great coaching staffs. I could go on forever, but it’s what people try to do today, I don’t know. There’s going to be a lot of success, in the NFL, but we did it, I think because we tried to make it more of a family. Maybe that term is getting overused. You know these guys, all these players whether they were hall of famers or whether they were second team players or players on special teams. They are coming because they were all treated and their fans were all treated like they were Hall of Fame players. We’ve done that over the years, you know, 7 or 8 years ago we had a reunion and brought, God, six or seven hundred players came to it. I think that’s we did all our lives and early on, we did things that people had never heard of, like wide bodied jets and giving the players each two seats and better meals and on the road giving each player their own room so that if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to double up with somebody. I think that means something. And you know, it gives them that sense of being part of something rather than just being a number and a uniform and somebody who goes out on Sunday. I guess I’m going a little past what you asked.

On where he learned this from. His mother (note training center is named after his mother)? His father? Lessons learned?

No question it came as I grew up in Youngstown. It came from my mother and father and obviously as I got a little older I went into the company, I saw the way my dad operated the business and more or less he lived this business. And he treated everybody like they were part of the family. We had in Youngstown at one time, because we did everything in Youngstown from concept to completion. Engineering, everything—you name it. We had over 600 people in Youngstown and probably 15,000 or so out in the field with the malls. I’m going to tell you something:We got to know and he knew everybody; it was amazing. Everybody felt like they were part of something. That’s why the business grew like it did. And that’s why I took that same attitude—or hopefully took it—out to San Francisco, and tried to do it, and inspire it into a business that really isn’t that type of a business. That’s blood sweat and tears, but you know what? Everybody is a human being, everybody wants to feel wanted, and everybody hopes that people recognize everything that they’ve done; the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all part of everything. But when you’re treated like a man and cared for, I think it shows when they get on the field.

On hearing his name on the list at going No. 6. Going after the late Kenny Stabler’s family (No. 5) and going before Tony Dungy (No. 7) and Brett Favre (No. 8):

Well, the same thing that went through my head when I walked through the hall of fame with David Baker, you’re surrounded by the icons of this sport and you’re going to be one of them. Truthfully, I don’t know if I belong in their shoes, but I know that it’s the most humbling and greatest honor that I could ever, ever imagine. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get up there; I may not be able to talk I might faint anything’s possible. Being in that class and going in with those great players, it’s going to be a day to remember.

On Al Davis playing a role getting DeBartolo into football:

He did. Yes he did, back in late ‘76 he made a phone call and said the San Francisco 49ers were for sale. At the time he had Joe Thomas call us, because Joe Thomas was basically from Youngstown. He was from a little town north of Youngstown called Cortland about 15 miles north of Youngstown. Yeah, we went out to San Francisco, my dad and I and a lawyer. We met with Al Davis and he put us with the Morabito group and it was a large group at the time because there were multiple owners. Al Davis was, he made the connection and brought us out there. Coming from Youngstown and thinking about owning the 49ers, that’s a long haul. When you start commuting, which I did through the years, that’s tough and it takes a lot out of you. But, here we are...

Two things that changed forever: Hiring Bill Walsh and drafting Joe Montana, what was the Mt. Everest moment:

No question, when I sat down and talked to Bill and hired him. He brought his creativity, his genius, his perfect adaption of the West Coast offense and that started it all along with, like I said, our front office and our hirings. Blending in John and Carmen and everyone else. And 1979 drafting Joe. You know, Bill really that year, and I’m sure you heard this before he really liked Phil Simms. And he obviously went to the Giants, and Joe was there in the 3rd round. A great athlete and a great competitor. We drafted him, and that’s that.

What was the best 49ers teams out of the five Super Bowl winning teams.

I’ll tell you one thing: Our ‘84 Super Bowl team; we had backups, I think our backups could win the Super Bowl that year. We had three all-pro nose tackles on that team.

Mention of how that team lost only one game that season due to a controversial pass interference call:

Exactly. And then the biggest mistake, one of the biggest mistakes I ever made was letting them talk me into or letting them trade Charles Haley to Dallas. Should never have been done. Could have worked it out. I count that as one of the biggest mistakes I ever made because it cost us a Super Bowl and gave Dallas another one.

On his favorite game as an owner:

It was so exciting, probably Super Bowl XXIII with John Taylor’s catch was an amazing game. You know there wasn’t much time left, you see those replays of Sam (then-Bengals head coach Sam Wyche), who was a great coach and a good friend of ours on the sideline. I felt so bad for him, but you said, “Here it comes again.” I think everybody was all ready to cover Jerry Rice and here comes John Taylor, who by the way, happens to be one of the great receivers to ever play the game. He was overshadowed by Jerry, rightfully so, but John in his own right was a great great receiver and obviously won us that Super Bowl.

On falling to 6-5 and losing to the Raiders that season and then running the table:

We lost to Phoenix the week before. Then we lost to the Raiders. I went back alone on the team plane and went down that next morning and sat with Bill and he and I talked in his office. He was very very down and very disappointed. We had a great conversation. He said. “This team is good enough to go to the Super Bowl. You know, I just gotta get things in order and get things back where they should be.”

You know? I did whatever I could do and he did what he did best and that team became a very very good team.

Where he was in the NFC Championship game against Chicago that season:

I went up and down. It was one of those games you couldn’t sit still in a box, I don’t care if it was thirty below. That first set of downs where everybody was tlaking about these pansies from the west coast who couldn’t take this cold weather and all the sudden Joe Montana throws a dart to Jerry Rice and we take a seven-nothing lead. That was it.

On trading Joe Montana and how hard that ultimately was:

You know something? It was horrible, but there’s a story to that. Joe came to Youngstown before that and we flew out to San Francisco together. And I want to tell you, if you talk to Joe, if you talk to Carmen or anybody else. I told Joe he could be the starter. We talked about it on the plane, we got to the airport, we went into a little room. I think he knew that George Seifert wanted Steve Young to be the starter. He said to me, as much as he cared, as close as we were, he thought it was best that he move on and go to Kansas City. And we’re probably as close now as we ever have been in our lives.

On why he was always making time for other people in desperate times (sitting with the late Freddie Solomon through chemo therapy, helping Bryant Young’s son Colby who is in hospice care with a brain tumor):

You have to do things for people that can’t do things for themselves. And if you’re lucky enough to be graced by God to be able to do things like that, then that’s what you’re here for. You brought up Colby, I’m close to Bryant and Kristin, and I talk to them always. And they have deep faith in God, and they’re going through this thing and it’s not going to end well. You just have to do what you can in whatever limited way you can to help people that can’t help themselves.