(Steve Young photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
(Eddie DeBartolo cover photo courtesy of Eddie DeBartolo)
Talk of Fame Network
In little less than a month, the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors meets in San Francisco to choose the Class of 2016, and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young hopes … no strongly believes … that former 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo should be included.
Of course, Young played for DeBartolo and won a Super Bowl with him, so he’s not exactly neutral on the issue. But on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast he makes a forceful and persuasive argument to make DeBartolo the third contributor candidate to reach Canton.
“Our friend (and Hall-of-Fame voter) Ira Miller always said, ‘Could you write the history of the NFL without him?’ And I’d say that, obviously you couldn’t,” said Young. “But there’s something more fundamental to Eddie’s candidacy — for me, having an ability to change the game or the nature of the game or the league itself. Eddie changed the relationship forever between owner and player.
“People might think that would be a reason not to have him in because they might be jealous and might not like that. But the truth is: A lot of the league’s success today is built out of the partnership that has been forged through a lot of tears in dealing with the CBA between management … owners … and players. For years that relationship was strained or broken and never really brought together through a true partnership.
“As much of a partner as players and owners are today, he was the one who broached that subject and built it. And the successful owners today, the ones who have taken that mantel and developed a unique relationship with their players … and had players say that ‘I played for the Mara family. I played for the Rooneys. I played for Robert Kraft.’ Those guys draw on that because they draw on the relationship they have with the owners. And I think Eddie changed that dynamic and made it forever better and built that partnership between players and owners. And, for that reason, you cannot exclude him.”
During DeBartolo’s tenure, the 49ers had an unparalleled run of success – two decades worth – and won five Super Bowls. But it was on his watch that the franchise was found guilty of salary-cap evasion, too, forfeiting $600,000 and two draft picks in the process. That could affect his chances of making it to Canton.
“If you were a voter,” Young was asked, “would that bother you?”
“Of course it would,” he said. “You have to take the whole thing in its entirety. So you have guys that are playing today who have to deal with it. Terrell Owens is dealing with some of that with the off-the-field personality. It’s all kind of wrapped up in there. You can’t help it. It’s in the nature of it.
“But for me, it’s very clear there is a competitive excellence. So you have to put it in and do the calculus. Even over the top of all of that is this kind of game-changing effect he had on the game.
“When you talk about contributor you’re talking about someone who changed that dynamic. Trust me, I was playing in the era in the mid-80s, and I know the number of guys who were talking about relationships. And we broke that relationship. We struck in 1987, and part of it was that broken relationship between management and owners and players. Er, not broken; it was never really forged.
“Did it matter? Was it substantive? Did it effect change in the NFL forever? And I would argue yes. Other than excellence and long-term excellence over 20 years we had a run as coaches and ownership and players unprecedented – maybe now being challenged by the patriots if (it goes) another five years. And maybe the Packers. Consistency of excellence. And that’s what you go into the Hall of Fame for. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lack of weight there, in my mind.
DeBartolo hasn’t been involved in the NFL since relinquishing control of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo-York, but he hasn’t been forgotten. When he returned to Candlestick Park to be named the team’s first Hall-of-Fame inductee, he was cheered wildly. And when former 49ers played a touch football game to close the stadium after the 2013 season, quarterback Joe Montana made sure the winning touchdown pass was thrown to his former boss.
“Honestly,” said Young, “Eddie could walk down any street in San Francisco and chants would start out immediately. People aren’t foolish. They’re not just blinded. But they look at the entirety of it all and see the capacity he had for developing relationships and a sense of family and a sense of team. That’s what the fans feel.”