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Eddie DeBartolo Jr. 'Humbled Beyond Recognition' as Hall of Fame Finalist



Even in his quiet Montana home, five-time Super Bowl-winning owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is pretty restless these days

He said as much to reporters on Thursday. "Mr. D" is a contributor finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016, which means anxious feelings have taken over in the days leading up to Super Bowl 50.

"Just to be in the position I'm in, I'm honored and humbled beyond recognition," he said in a Thursday conference call from his residence in Montana.

DeBartolo's Hall of Fame induction is dependent on an 80 percent passing vote when the selection committee makes its final calls on Feb. 6, a day before the Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers at Levi's® Stadium.

DeBartolo, who owned the 49ers for 23 years, was doing his best to relax prior to discussing his HOF candidacy and his storied career in professional football. He told reporters that he was listening to songs from the Eagles ("Lyin' Eyes") from his office prior to the interview session. DeBartolo also said he's been getting up as early as 2:45 in the morning recently.

He explained why in great detail.

"It is an emotional thing," DeBartolo said. "You're talking about something like the NFL Hall of Fame, this is something that is hard to get out of your mind. It's hard to realize, too. You're talking about immortals."

DeBartolo's success in the NFL matches up with some of the greatest contributors in league history. He won five Super bowls in a 14-year period from 1981 to 1994. DeBartolo's teams also reached the playoffs 16 times in an 18-season stretch. He was also beloved by his players and coaches for sparing no expense to create a family-oriented front office structure.

DeBartolo did not mince words when expressing the magnitude of potentially being enshrined into football's elite fraternity in Canton, Ohio.

"It would be the culmination of all that is good over my lifetime as an owner," he said. "There were bad times and there good times. There times where there were tears, and there were times where there were smiles and laughs.

"All I can do is hope and pray that I can join these great people and great athletes."

DeBartolo is no stranger to the Hall of Fame process. He has inducted five of his former players into the Hall of Fame, including defensive end Charles Haley in last year's ceremony.

DeBartolo was named a Hall of Fame finalist on three occasions (2012, 2013 and 2014). All three times, however, he was eliminated from consideration when the voting process went from 15 candidates to 10.

As this year's contributor candidate, DeBartolo hopes to follow in the footsteps of respected league personnel executives Ron Wolf and Bill Polian, who both earned the 80 percent vote in 2015.

"I have great respect for the voters," DeBartolo said. "It's in their hands. I'll have to sit back and hope something good happens. If it doesn't, I have to go on with my life and live. Life is too important to not take each day as it comes."

A potential Hall of Fame selection for San Francisco's respected owner would be another notable achievement for the Super Bowl's host region.

The last Super Bowl to be played in the Bay Area also earned an important victory for the 49ers. DeBartolo's team dominated a Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins team, 38-16, in Super Bowl XIX, which was played at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.

The former owner remarked that he was looking at a famous photo of Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh laying on the floor prior to the franchise's third Super Bowl title.

"Bill was the most prepared, the smartest coach who ever lived," DeBartolo said. "He shined in big games. But he also did in Sunday games. The man was a genius. You could look at our (coaching) tree, and it continues to grow and grow.

"You can go through the league and see what this man did."

DeBartolo noted former 49ers coaches Gary Kubiak (head coach of the Broncos) and Ray Brown (assistant offensive line coach for the Panthers) as examples of Walsh's influence in today's NFL.

"It's hard to call people genius, but he was," DeBartolo said of Walsh, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1993. "I don't think there was anybody who was ever able to make adjustments to a re-adjustment if there is such a thing.

"We sure had a leg-up on the other team with his mind. He was just unbelievable. He was a teacher. He was a coach. He was a great, great friend and a mentor."

Having the biggest game in professional sports return to the Bay Area was not lost on DeBartolo. Beyond the spotlight it casts on San Francisco's triumphs in one tenth of the Super Bowl's history, it showcases the region as a whole.

"It means so much to the city," DeBartolo said. "It means so much to the Bay Area… I think it's phenomenal. It's so deserving. I just wish it didn't take so long to come back."

Another gold jacket for a deserving member of the 49ers would surely mean equally as much if not more.

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