CANTON, OHIO – Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was at the podium for nearly 27 minutes. It was his moment. His time.
But that's not how the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers operates. DeBartolo had no plans to bask in the innumerable accomplishments that warranted his Hall of Fame induction: an average of 13 wins per season from 1981-98, 13 division championships, and five Lombardi Trophies. Ho hum.
Instead, his speech focused on those – players, staff, family, friends and otherwise – who helped him reach the pinnacle of the pro football world. Because for DeBartolo, it has been, and always will be, about people.
It was quintessential "Mr. D."
"I understand that our success wasn't just on the owner and the players, but on everybody," DeBartolo started. "I stand here today for the equipment managers and the groundskeepers, and the laundry crew who worked hard everyday. I stand here for the executive assistants, the PR team and the interns who worked through the weekends. I stand here for the scouts and the bus drivers, and the cooks and the schedulers and (hot) dog venders, and the community reps who might never ever see their name in lights, but who are every bit as important to building a winning football franchise, as the players we root for on Sunday.
"There are simply too many people who played a very special role in our success to mention here today, but all of you know who you are, and I'm so grateful of you and I love you all very much."
Saturday's enshrinement ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium marked another chapter in DeBartolo's selfless approach to life. His candor, authenticity and generosity have left a wake of immeasurable admiration.
Take a look at some of the best photos of one of the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Jerry Rice, Fred Dean, Charles Haley and Joe Montana – four players DeBartolo presented at their own Hall of Fame inductions – were on hand. So too were fellow Hall of Famers Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wilcox and dozens of other former 49ers players and staffers.
"For me, one of the biggest honors is joining my guys," DeBartolo said. "Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Freddy Dean, Steve Young and of course, the great Bill Walsh. It's no secret what a big part they played in me being here today."
DeBartolo's reach, however, goes so much farther than football. His former Cardinal Mooney High School classmates filled several busses and trekked up from Youngstown, Ohio. A majority of DeBartolo's 424-student graduating class was in attendance to see their friend enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (DeBartolo offered to pay their way, of course.)
Despite DeBartolo's best efforts, Saturday night was still about him. It was about recognizing how one man redefined what it meant to own a football team.
He dared to do things differently. What the players wanted, they got. Charter flights? Done. Their own hotel rooms for road games? Absolutely. There's a long list of common practices in today's NFL that were once radical ideas, pioneered by DeBartolo. His family-oriented philosophy made "Mr. D." the first owner to fill an entire hand with Super Bowl rings.
"We did not see players as simply players. We saw them as men. We saw them as sons, husbands, fathers (and) brothers, with families and responsibilities," DeBartolo said. "We knew that if we helped make it possible to bring their whole selves to work, they would give us their all. That's why we welcomed mothers, wives, girlfriends and children to the team. We sent gifts to them on special occasions and celebrated with them on holidays.
"We weren't just a family on Sundays, we were a family every single day."
Make no mistake, DeBartolo changed the game forever, and now he has the bronze bust to prove it.