Skip to main content

Former 49ers Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Selected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

SAN FRANCISCO -- The wait is over.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is finally where he belongs, among the National Football League's immortal figures in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The five-time Super Bowl-winning owner of the San Francisco 49ers was announced Saturday night as the HOF's 2016 contributor selection. DeBartolo, a three-time HOF finalist in 2012,13,14, received more than 80 percent of the vote from the selection committee. He's now the 22nd contributor to enter the hallowed grounds of pro football history.

"Could you ask for a better script?" DeBartolo said to local reporters. "It's the 50th Super Bowl and it's in the Bay Area where you made your contribution to this great sport. Did I think that it was too good to be true? I certainly did. But like I said, it's almost like somebody scripted it."

The beloved former owner, known by many simply as, "Mr. D," will join seven other Class of 2016 inductees on stage at the Aug. 6 enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio, some 55.7 miles from where he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio.

DeBartolo will be presented by his eldest of three daughters, Lisa.

"We're just so thrilled for my dad," she said. "Nobody deserves it more than he does."

DeBartolo's daughter plans on emphasizing her father's generosity on and off the field in her speech.

"I think what is legacy is, not only how he was with the football team, but also what he does now as a good person," she said. "And the good human being that he is now for people, not just for his players, but for people in general. I think that's what he wants everybody to know."

DeBartolo, 69, was the first owner in NFL history to win five Vince Lombardi trophies. He also averaged 13 wins per season while owning the 49ers for 23 seasons (1977-00).

"On behalf of my family, the San Francisco 49ers organization and our Faithful fans around the world, I would like to congratulate my uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., on his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," DeBartolo's nephew and current 49ers CEO Jed York said in an issued statement. "There could be no more appropriate setting for this honor to be bestowed on him than during the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl in the region to which he delivered five Lombardi Trophies.

"Uncle Eddie's impact on the game of football runs much, much deeper than simply the championships won by this franchise. He is the best owner in the history of the NFL because of the culture he created and how it still impacts the game to this day. Just walking through the city with him this week, you could see the love that remains for him from his former players, those his teams competed against, and fans from around the league. I think I speak for them all when I say, congratulations 'Mr. D.' We love you."

DeBartolo's previous experiences as a Hall of Fame finalist didn't help calm his nerves in recent weeks. DeBartolo joked that his anxiety was worse than any of the five Super Bowl games.

"I really didn't sense anything," he said. "I was just so nervous."

The former 49ers owner did express his feelings on how being in the contributor category improved his chances of being selected for enshrinement.

"To be honest with you, I never expected this ever to happen," he said. "When they changed to the contributor category, I think it made a lot of difference because I don't think any owner can go up against the likes of these icons as players. It's almost impossible. I think that obviously helped a lot."

DeBartolo's players expressed their support for his HOF candidacy throughout the week of Super Bowl festivities.

"To this day, if you need something from Eddie, anyone from the team could call him," Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said. "He would find a way to help you. 

"You can't begin to write the history of the NFL without talking about what he did for the game. And that's away from the five Super Bowls and all the other stuff."

It's no secret why their owner was so beloved.

DeBartolo revolutionized the way owners interacted with players and instituted major changes to impact their play on the field. DeBartolo was known for sparing no expenses on wide-body planes and spacious hotel rooms for his players and staff. He also instituted a minority coaching fellowship program, the first of its kind in league history.

"We did everything first class," said Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. "We had a chance to stay in the best hotels. We had players from other teams who wanted to be a part of the 49ers because of Eddie DeBartolo."

DeBartolo said his relationships was his proudest achievement in the NFL.

"If you want to pick one thing, I think it's the relationship I had with the fans and the thousands of players that went through our building," he said."

DeBartolo maintained that he keeps in contact with hundreds of his former players via texts and emails and that the conversations tend to pick up around the holidays.

With the support of their owner unmatched, the 49ers posted the NFL's best winning percentages in the decades of the 1980s and 90s. Beyond the five Super Bowls won, the 49ers went to 10 conference championship games, won 13 division titles and made 16 playoff appearances under DeBartolo.

"That's why we were the team of the 80s and won so many championships," Rice said. "We played for the fans. We also played for Eddie DeBartolo, and I think that's why we had so much success."

"That partnership was forged by Eddie breaking down the barriers between players and owners," Young added. "Look at any thriving owner today. They may not say that Eddie influenced them, but Eddie broke the ice for owners to have that type of relationship with their players."

DeBartolo's start in professional football didn't necessarily seem like he was bound for Canton.

The 49ers posted back-to-back 2-14 seasons prior to the hiring of legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh in 1979. San Francisco also drafted Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana that season and the rest was, as they say, history.

DeBartolo's latest chapter in his football story is one for the ages.

On the night before the Bay Area hosts Super Bowl 50 from the 49ers home stadium, the franchise's former owner has earned his rightful recognition and place among the game's most elite company.

"(He's) the greatest owner to ever own a team," Rice said. "It was all about family, and I think that's the reason why we won so many championships is because he was about family. In the organization, it started up top and it feathered on down to the locker room. We knew we had to win for the city of San Francisco. We had the right owner. We had the greatest coach in Bill Walsh.

"I think that's the reason he deserves to be in the Hall. He's waited a long time and I can't think of a more ideal scenario."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.