Charles Haley spent part of the opening of his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech last month stumping for his former owner with the San Francisco 49ers.
"When you're thinking about Hall of Famers, you're thinking about winning," Haley said of Eddie DeBartolo Jr., his presenter that day in Canton, Ohio. "Mr. D, he won five Super Bowls ... if the standard is winning, why is he not here, you know? I pray that Mr. D comes in the Hall of Fame sooner than later."
Sooner could come as soon as next year.
DeBartolo, 68, was selected as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 on Wednesday by the Hall's Contributors Committee.
"I'm truly humbled," he said in a statement. "My football life is going through my mind right now."
DeBartolo owned the 49ers at the height of their dynasty, during which they won five Super Bowl championships. But in 2000, he was forced to give up the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, after pleading guilty to a felony in a gambling scandal in Louisiana. A year earlier, the NFL fined DeBartolo $1 million -- a record penalty reached this offseason by the New England Patriots for Deflategate -- and suspended him for that season before he gave up the team, which is now run by his nephew Jed York.
The Contributors category, per the Hall of Fame, is for "individuals who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching."
From 1977 to 2000, the 49ers had 10 or more wins in a season 17 times, the only nonwinning season coming in strike-shortened 1982, when they went 3-6. They appeared in 10 NFC title games and won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX during that span.
To gain induction, DeBartolo has to receive the same 80 percent of the vote required of all finalists. Last month, Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel were named by the Seniors Committee as its two finalists.
DeBartolo, Stabler and Stanfel will join 15 other to-be-decided finalists whom the selectors will choose for Hall of Fame induction the night before Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. The class can be no fewer than four and no more than eight.