(Levy photo compliments of the Buffalo Bills)
(DeBartolo photo compliments of Eddie DeBartolo Jr.)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Now that the Pro Football Hall of Fame revealed its presenters for the Class of 2015, we know who the most popular guys will be at next month’s induction ceremonies.
Marv Levy and Eddie DeBartolo, come on down.
Levy will present former Buffalo GM Bill Polian. DeBartolo stands up for former pass rusher Charles Haley. And if it seems as if they’ve done this sort of thing before it’s only because they have. This is DeBartolo’s fifth Hall-of-Fame presentation and Levy’s fourth.
And therein lies the story.
To be asked to make one presentation is an honor. To be asked to make four or five is a testimonial. It says more about those making the introductions than it does the inductees. And with Levy and DeBartolo, it says how respected, appreciated and, yes, loved both were … and are … by persons they commanded.
Levy’s value already has been measured by the Hall. He was elected to Canton in 2001 after taking the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls. DeBartolo, on the other hand, is still waiting on the Hall of Fame, though he’s been close – three times making it as a finalist before moving to the contributors category last year.
Naturally, he’d like to take that last step, but let’s be honest here: The Pro Football Hall of Fame is not a measure of his worth as owner of the San Francisco 49ers. I’d suggest he’s already gotten that through repeated requests to return to Canton to introduce his next former employee.
What that tells me is that DeBartolo joins Levy and others in an equally elite hall of fame, reserved for those the game’s greats recognize and who need no validation from the Hall’s 46 selectors. DeBartolo gained that validation long ago, and he gets it again next month from Haley, who had every reason to resent DeBartolo and the 49ers for his trade to Dallas in 1992 – a move that stung so much that when he returned to Candlestick for that season’s NFC championship game he had a mission.
“When I left the 49ers,” he said on a Talk of Fame broadcast last summer, “I was dejected. I was pissed. I was very angry. All I could think about was revenge. My life was controlled by revenge. I wanted to pay the 49ers back. I felt they sent me to the Cowboys to end my career.
“Instead of that, God blessed me. When I went out there for the NFC championship game I made a commitment to myself that I was going to lay it all out – even if I broke both of my legs and both of my shoulders. Even if I lost my mind. I was going to do everything in my power to walk away from there and let them know they made a mistake letting me go. It was so gratifying when we won it. They had to eat crow.”
That doesn’t sound like a guy who left his heart in San Francisco.
Haley could’ve called on Jimmy Johnson to introduce him in Canton. After all, he was the coach who traded for him and who learned how to control him. He could’ve called on Dallas owner Jerry Jones, too. But he didn’t. He called on DeBartolo.
And that’s the point: He should have resented DeBartolo and the 49ers, but he didn’t. Instead, he’s forever grateful, and get in line. Players, coaches and GMs who put DeBartolo and Levy in their rear-view mirrors never forgot what they gained from them. And when they had a chance to re-examine it, to reassess their careers as Haley did, they realized it was more than something beneficial; it was a necessary experience toward making them what they are today.
Hall of Famers.
Polian is no different. He was fired by Buffalo after the Bills’ third straight Super Bowl loss in January, 1993. So he went to Carolina, where he took the Panthers to the NFC conference championship game in their second season of existence. Then it was on to Indianapolis where he had a long run of success and won a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning.
He could’ve called on Carolina owner Jerry Richardson next month. He could’ve called on Dungy or Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay. But he didn’t. He tapped the guy who had Polian introduce him at Canton 14 years ago. He tapped Marv Levy.
“I am so honored and complimented that he asked me to be his presenter,” said Levy. “I savor the opportunity.”
But that’s what separates a Marv Levy from other coaches and Eddie DeBartolo from other owners. Coaches wanted to coach for them. Players wanted to play for them. GMs wanted to work with them. And the very best of those who surrounded them wanted them front and center when chosen for pro football’s highest honor.
Better yet, they continue to want them.
My point is that it really doesn’t matter if Levy is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and DeBartolo is not. I know it does to them, but I’m talking about from a dispassionate point of view. Because if they wanted something extraordinary from the game of football they gained it a long time ago – and it’s more than success on the field.
It’s a blind loyalty, admiration and respect from those they cared about and looked after … and who never forgot.