DeBartolo relishes 49ers' success, thrilled about statue

January 24, 2013, 10:00 am
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Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who served as one of three honorary captains for the NFC Championship Game, was flooded with memories over the weekend in Atlanta.

And he received some significant news Wednesday about his future with the 49ers organization, too.

DeBartolo found out he will be honored with a bronze statue at the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, which is scheduled to open for the 2014 season.

"I just got an email from Keena (Turner, the 49ers' vice president of football affairs)," DeBartolo told "It's a phenomenal honor.

"I haven't talked to Jed (York). We've emailed each other. They want a picture of me. They want to do a bronze statue at the stadium, along with one of my dad (Edward DeBartolo Sr.). And I said, 'I hope that doesn't mean that they think I'm going to be gone.'"

DeBartolo has mostly remained out of sight since he stepped away from day-to-day operations of the 49ers in December 1997 when he became entangled in a federal investigation into gambling fraud in Louisiana. The NFL suspended him for a year. In 2000, he reached an agreement with his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, to give her and her husband, John York, full control of the franchise.

But, clearly, Eddie DeBartolo will never be forgotten. The five-time Super Bowl-winning owner said he was flattered by the reception he received in Atlanta from 49ers players, coaches and fans.

"Sunday was very emotional for me," DeBartolo said. "I had a lot of players come over to me and hug me and talk. It's hard to put it into words, especially because some of the players I hadn't dealt with. I've known Vernon (Davis) and Frank Gore and some of these other young -- I call them kids.

"Obviously, it's because of what transpired over a period of time. And the five Super Bowls. It wasn't the Kevin Fagans, Joe Montanas, Ronnie Lotts, Jerry Rices. I almost felt like I was totally a part of this. It meant a lot to me."

And DeBartolo said he was equally touched by the greeting he received from the many 49ers fans he met in Atlanta.

"The fans always meant something to me," DeBartolo said. "I get very emotional. I was down there. You saw how many 49ers fans were there. It was like being back in Candlestick Park. I took so many pictures and I signed so many things. It was like the good ol' days."

DeBartolo is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The class of 2013 will be announced the day before the Super Bowl. Things could not be a whole lot better, he said, as he repeatedly expressed his pride that the franchise has experienced a resurgence under the leadership of Jed York, his nephew.

"It was very, very heartening, and it's happening now with Jed and the organization and with coach (Jim) Harbaugh," DeBartolo said. "I talked to all of the coaches. Jim Leavitt (49ers linebackers coach) has been an old friend of mine because he was at South Florida. They have a great staff on top of a bunch of great players."

DeBartolo predicted the 49ers would blow out the Falcons en route to Super Bowl XLVII. It did not quote work out that way. The 49ers rallied from a 17-point deficit for a 28-24 victory.

"Obviously, I was wrong about that," he said. "They did win the game. I think this is going to be a very interesting game coming up. Baltimore is a very good football team. Again, I don't think they're as good as the 49ers. But I'm biased. I think they have a great coach, obviously. It runs in the family."

DeBartolo, while speaking via phone from his home in Montana, was in pain from a weekend he said took a physical toll on him. A small cartilage tear in his left knee became fully torn, he said, and he also has ligament damage. He'll eventually undergo surgery. But that can wait until after the Super Bowl.

DeBartolo said he does not know where he'll be on Super Bowl Sunday. He is likely to be in New Orleans for the Hall of Fame announcement. Former 49ers pass-rush sensation Charles Haley is also a finalist. Haley asked DeBartolo to present him if he is selected.

Mostly, DeBartolo said he just wants to remain out of the spotlight.

"I've thought about it. I'm so happy for Denise and I'm so happy for Jed. And I couldn't wish them any more than the best of luck in their quest to return to the championship days for the City of San Francisco and its fans," DeBartolo said. "But, actually, this is their time and this is their team. I had my run.

"This is their time, and I don't want to take anything away from that. So I don't know what I'm going to do."

In the meantime, DeBartolo will enlist the help of family members to come up with the snapshot for the statue that will be permanently displayed at the new stadium. And the process is likely to conjure up many more great memories.

Said DeBartolo, "I'm gong to have my kids and everybody go through a million pictures."