DeBartolo, Haley await Hall-of-Fame fates

DeBartolo, Haley await Hall-of-Fame fates
February 2, 2013, 6:30 am
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Eddie DeBartolo and Charles Haley are two of 16 Hall of Fame finalists. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

NEW ORLEANS -- Charles Haley's behavior became too much for the 49ers to tolerate.

And George Seifert could not take it any longer. In 1992, Seifert dealt one of the most disruptive pass-rushers of his time to the Dallas Cowboys because of his disruptive nature off the field.

Two decades later, Seifert told CSNBayArea.com that he regrets the move.

"As I look back at it now, in hindsight, I was a young head coach," Seifert said. "I reacted. There were some tough things going on with Charles. But if I'd been a head coach with more experience I could've figured it out and found a way to get it done."

Haley is finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fourth time. The announcement will come Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (PT) after the 46-person selection committee meets to determine a class of 2013 that must include from four to seven new inductees.

Haley and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, each of whom owns five Super Bowl rings, are strong candidates. DeBartolo is a finalist for the second year in a row.

Coincidentally, when DeBartolo looks back on his time as owner, his biggest regret, as it pertains to his handling of players, was the move that sent Haley packing to an NFC rival.

"The biggest mistake I made, or let happen, was trading Charles Haley," DeBartolo said. "If we don't trade Charles Haley, we win another Super Bowl. There's no question in my mind. It was a mistake and I should've stepped in.

"I know he had some problems with some people but we could've solved that. Charles and I have become very close friends. In fact, I'm rooting for him so much. If he does make the Hall of Fame, he asked me to induct him."

After the 49ers got rid of safety Ronnie Lott, Haley's already-combustible personality took a dark turn.

Said Seifert, "I don't think Charles ever forgave me for Ronnie getting away."

Haley battled with Seifert. He also demonstrated lewd and rude behavior in he locker room in front of teammates, staff and reporters. In one of his most notorious incidents, Haley urinated on teammate Tim Harris' BMW. In 2010, Haley revealed he was taking medication after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In the early 1990s, the balance of power in the NFL shifted from the 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys with the Haley trade. Haley won two Super Bowls with the 49ers, as he recorded 63.5 sacks in six seasons. He won three more Super Bowl rings after his trade to the Cowboys. He was twice named NFC defensive player of the year, and he was named to the Pro Bowl team five times.

"He changed the way that position is played," DeBartolo said. "Aldon Smith was thrilled to be able to spend some time with Charles (before and after the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta), and vice versa. I think he plays like Charles played. Charles really changed the elephant position. He was just a phenomenal athlete and a great football player. And do I think he belongs in? I sure do. I don't know if he's a slam dunk, but he sure should be."

[REWIND: Aldon Smith listened to Haley's pass-rush tips]

That's what many of his former players are saying about DeBartolo, too.

"I run around telling people Eddie should be in the Hall of Fame," Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said.

Said Jerry Rice, "Any time you can accomplish winning five Super Bowls and what he brought to the game of football, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think this society's supposed to be about forgiveness and stuff like that. It's time for Eddie DeBartolo to get into the Hall."

The biggest point of debate about DeBartolo is the way he exited the NFL. DeBartolo gave $400,000 to then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in March of 1997 in an attempt to acquire a riverboat gambling license. DeBartolo eventually pleaded guilty to a felony, failure to report an extortion attempt, and was suspended for a year by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. He never regained control of the team.

Team CEO Jed York, DeBartolo's nephew, said DeBartolo has made the kind of impact on the NFL that should lead to his induction.

DeBartolo was known as an owner who spared no expense to make his players comfortable. Players wanted to play for the 49ers. But DeBartlo's contribution extend beyond his generosity and his popularity among the players, York said.

"You have somebody like Bill (Walsh), and you have an owner who gave him an opportunity, I think, to expand the horizons of the league," York said.

"You look at the minority coaching program. That started with the San Francisco 49ers. If Eddie DeBartolo wasn't a proponent of that and wasn't a force in that, then I don't know where that would be today."

York added, "You look at some of the player development things that the NFL does on a whole. That started with the San Francisco 49ers. And those things don't start unless you have an owner that's willing to put everything that he has back into the team, to make the team better, to make the league better, to make the game better."

DeBartolo does not plan to attend Super Bowl XLVII to watch the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He said he does not want to divert any attention away from the current 49ers organization. He is likely to come to New Orleans, however, if he receives word on Saturday that he has been selected into the Hall of Fame.

"I'm just happy to have been part of the entire 49ers tradition," DeBartolo said. "It made my life complete. It made my family's life complete, just being able to go through what we did and have the success that we had. A lot of people contributed to it. I hope I contributed some to it.

"And if I'm lucky enough to someday be elected, it would probably be the greatest day of my life other than the day I got married and the days I had my three daughters and my grandsons."

* * *

NFL Network will broadcast the Hall of Fame announcement Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (PT).

2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalists
Eddie DeBartolo
Charles Haley
Larry Allen
Warren Sapp
Jonathan Ogden
Michael Strahan
Jerome Bettis
Tim Brown
Cris Carter
Andre Reed
Will Shields
Kevin Greene
Bill Parcells
Art Modell
Curley Culp*
Dave Robinson*

* senior nominee