SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When it was announced Eddie DeBartolo Jr. would be a part of the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, it was fitting that the announcement was made in the Bay Area.
It was where DeBartolo helped forge one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties, winning five Super Bowls as owner of the San Francisco 49ers along the way.
“It’s almost like the script was written, having Super Bowl 50 here in the Bay Area after all these years that we battled and played here is something that I don’t know if anybody could ever write a better script,” DeBartolo said then. “I’ve spent so much time with all the guys, not just this week, but in past weeks, talking and getting together with them. It’s just a dream come true, I guess, if it’s going to happen and I’m lucky enough to be with this elite group here and with these icons in Canton. No better place to do it than where it all started.”
And now, as DeBartolo prepares for enshrinement, he’s actually returning to the place where it all started. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, DeBartolo will bask in the glow of football’s highest honor 66 miles from where he grew up.
It was there, in Youngstown, where DeBartolo learned the necessary traits to run a successful franchise. Those lessons came from his father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., founder of one of the largest public real estate businesses in the country.
The elder DeBartolo began building that business in the 1940s, employing more than 700 people in Youngstown and more than 10 times that throughout the country. DeBartolo’s ownership philosophy focused on treating employees like family in order to earn their trust and loyalty.
So when Eddie DeBartolo Jr. purchased the 49ers in 1977, he brought those same core values. Everything the team did was done with flair.
“We did everything first class,” receiver Jerry Rice said. “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. That’s why we were the team of the 80s and won so many championships. We played for the fans. We also played for Eddie DeBartolo, and I think that’s why we had so much success.”
With DeBartolo in charge, the 49ers had legendary players such as Rice, quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young and safety Ronnie Lott. DeBartolo also hired the legendary Bill Walsh as head coach.
The result: DeBartolo oversaw one of the most successful and dominant runs by any NFL franchise in his 23 years as owner of the team. In addition to the five Super Bowl titles, San Francisco played in 10 NFC title games. From 1977 to 2000, the 49ers won 10 or more games in a season 17 times. The only non-winning year came in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
“It means a culmination of a lifetime of blood, sweat, tears, love for a city, love for players, relationships with media -- some good some bad, we had our times,” DeBartolo said. “It means so much because anybody that you ever, like Tony [Dungy] said just think about it, to be in Canton with these icons for what you’ve tried to do with your life in the great sport of football is just beyond comprehension. I’m honored and humbled and I don’t even know what more I can say.”
While there were also some tumultuous times -- DeBartolo was forced to give up the team to his sister after pleading guilty to a felony in a Louisiana gambling scandal -- DeBartolo’s influence on the NFL was undeniable.
“You can’t begin to write the history of the NFL without talking about what he did for the game,” Young said.
Now that DeBartolo is part of the Hall of Fame, that history will remain for all to see. From Youngstown to San Francisco and beyond.