CANTON, OHIO – A gold jacket and a bronze bust – the two items most synonymous with the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has seen his share of both. The extraordinary list of players (and a coach) who have been enshrined in Canton from his 23-year tutelage as the owner of the San Francisco 49ers is no coincidence.
"Are we ready to put some jackets on some shoulders tonight?" asked Rich Eisen, an NFL Network host and the emcee of Thursday night's Gold Jacket Dinner.
The rhetorical inquiry to open the ceremony needed no response. The man best known as "Mr. D." has been ready – and deserving – for years. More than 4,000 people filled the Canton Memorial Civic Center for the beginning of DeBartolo's long overdue weekend in the sun. Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young were among those on hand to support the iconic owner.
DeBartolo's resume is well-known and unmatched by any of his NFL peers: an average of 13 wins per season from 1981-98, 16 playoff appearances, 13 division championships, 10 appearances in the NFC championship game and five Super Bowl victories.
Those accomplishments will now be immortalized in the mecca of the football world.
Five times DeBartolo has had that fabled jacket in his hands, ready to cloak a fellow 49ers great: Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Rice, Fred Dean and Charles Haley. On Thursday, it was Lisa DeBartolo, Eddie's daughter, who had the honor of sliding the golden threads onto each of her father's arms.
After being announced by Eisen, DeBartolo walked through a gauntlet of Hall-of-Famers waiting for him. Young was one of those legendary players ready to welcome his former boss into the prestigious club. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback hugged his beloved friend and pulled out his cell phone to take a selfie.
"So many memories, you know? More than you could ever write," Young told 49ers.com Thursday night. "It's meaningful because of what we did together. Football is a team sport. So when someone comes to join you here, in the Hall of Fame, it feels like the right thing. It's great to see him here."
When it came time to put on his jacket, NFL Network played a video of DeBartolo's greatest moments. A national TV audience viewed a montage of celebrations that are etched into 49ers franchise history.
Take a look at 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s career with the San Francisco 49ers.
Lisa removed the suit coat that Eddie arrived in and replaced it with the most invaluable piece of clothing the NFL has to offer. Then the stage cleared and it was just "Mr. D.," soaking in the moment that was decades in the making.
DeBartolo is a member of the largest Hall of Fame class in NFL history. The other seven being inducted this weekend include Brett Favre, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler (posthumously) and Dick Stanfel (posthumously). The group will have Friday to prepare for the main events to come on Saturday.
A parade through the streets of downtown Canton will be followed by the enshrinement ceremony itself. At that point, the other shoe will drop and DeBartolo's bronze bust will be revealed.
For a man who grew up only 60 miles away in Youngstown, the former 49ers owner now rightfully claims his permanent residency in Canton.
"Welcome to your new home," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
Welcome home, indeed, "Mr. D."