(Eddie DeBartolo, right, and his sister, Denise DeBartolo York)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
CANTON, Ohio – Once upon a time, former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo said that reaching the Hall of Fame would be “the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” Well, he’s halfway there.
DeBartolo was chosen Wednesday from a pool of 12 finalists as the contributor candidate for the Class of 2016 by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s contributor sub-committee.
That doesn’t mean he’s in. It simply means that his name will now be put in front of the Hall’s 46-member board when it convenes during Super Bowl weekend … and this just in: The Super Bowl? It’s in San Francisco. So DeBartolo will be a popular choice with 49ers' fans.
Convincing electors, however, won't be as easy. For him to elected, he must gain 80 percent of the vote.
"Oh, God," said an emotional DeBartolo when notified of his nomination. "Thank you so much. I am truly humbled. I don't know what else to say except that I am truly humbled. My football life ... Bill Walsh ... all the players from my team ... other teams ... the coaches ... everything is going through my mind right now. I am truly speechless. I really don't know what to say except than you from the bottom of my heart."
DeBartolo was a three-time finalist for the Hall but failed each time to make the cut from 15 to 10. Then, the Hall created the contributor category in 2014 -- a category reserved for non-players -- and DeBartolo immediately became one of the favorites. Though he missed last year when Ron Wolf and Bill Polian were chosen as the first Hall-of-Fame contributors, DeBartolo told the Talk of Fame Network what it meant to have his name included among the finalists.
“It’s such an honor just to be mentioned,” he told the broadcast last summer. (Listen below) “I know anybody in this situation would say that. Because it was my life, and it was a gigantic portion of my life, like my family."
“(If I were elected), it would mean the world to me. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’ll just take it year by year, and, if it happens, it will be the greatest thing that ever happens to me. If it ever happened, it would be a culmination of something that made my life memorable and made my life complete.”
DeBartolo’s impact on the game is undeniable. His teams won 13 division titles, 10 conference championship games and five Super Bowls – the first team to reach five. What's more, during his tenure the 49ers never won fewer than 10 games in 17 of 18 consecutive seasons. The only miss? It was the strike-truncated 1982 season.
But his impact on players was just as significant. When he presented Charles Haley for induction last month it marked the fifth time he stood in front of a Hall-of-Fame audience to present a player or coach. Only Al Davis (9) and Paul Brown (6) appeared more in Canton as presenters.
"When you think about Hall of Famers," Haley said at his induction, "you think about winning. So if that's the standard, why is he not here?"
He may be. Sooner rather than later.