(Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Rice visit the Talk of Fame Network in San Francisco)
Talk of Fame Network
Former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo not only is beloved by former players and coaches; he’s beloved by legions of 49ers’ fans, some of whom showed up on our Talk of Fame Network set during Super Bowl week to chant for the guy known more familiarly as “Mr. D.”
To them, DeBartolo is a visible reminder of the best days of the organization, a nearly two-decade run when the 49ers stood atop the NFL, winning five Super Bowls in 14 years.
Small wonder, then, that DeBartolo’s selection last weekend to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was hailed throughout the Bay Area, with anyone connected to the 49ers’ teams of the 1980s and ’90s – be they fans, players, coaches or hired help – celebrating the choice of one of pro football’s most successful owners.
“Why is he so popular?” Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott, one of the 49ers’ greats, asked on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Because he felt like we felt. He understood how we felt. He played like we played.
“He gave everything he possibly could to us, allowing us to be able to understand (that), ‘Hey, I’m in it just like you guys. I’m invested in your deal. I’m invested in your families. I’m invested in the people in our community. I’m invested in the people in our company.’ He had the same attitude that we had and that was at all costs; let’s get this thing done. Let’s be champions.”
Most people know that — or, at least, have heard that. What we hadn’t heard, however, was Lott’s favorite Eddie DeBartolo story. So we asked him to tell it.
And he did.
(Ronnie Lott photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
“My favorite Eddie story is a story that doesn’t have anything to do with football,” he said. “It has everything to do with my Mom. And my Dad. And the reason that it’s my favorite story is that my Mom and my Dad have gone to a lot of major sporting events since I was 10 years old, but they had never been to a sporting event when a person says to them, ‘You know what? I want to make sure you’re comfortable. I want to make sure that the seat is right.’
“In my neighborhood, you don’t get that. You don’t get that type of feeling. You don’t get people embracing you. As a matter of fact, as we all know, people of color have always had people that have said (to them), ‘No, no, no. you can’t have this and you can’t have that. And yet Mr. DeBartolo, said, ‘No, you’re part of our family. Here are some things that I want to make sure you to know: That I appreciate your son. Here are things that I want you to know: That when you come to a super bowl this is how you’re going to be treated.’
“So when my Mom and Dad think of Mr. DeBartolo, I’m indebted to him because he lifted them up. He made them feel special and made them feel special when he didn’t even have to. So that’s one of my favorite stories. When somebody does something to your family, and they don’t have to do it and yet they do it because that’s just who they are, that’s unbelievable.”