DeBartolo's legacy examined in 'A Football Life'

DeBartolo's legacy examined in 'A Football Life'
October 22, 2012, 5:23 pm
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Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was among 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time earlier this season. He was not inducted into the Hall of Fame, but a strong argument for his enshrinement is made during "Eddie DeBartolo: A Football Life," which airs Wednesday, 5 p.m., on the NFL Network.During DeBartolo's 23 years in control of the 49ers, the organization won five Super Bowl titles. The one-hour program highlights DeBartolo's gentle touch, as well as his combustible side, including his hot-and-cold relationship with coach Bill Walsh, who was on the sideline for four championships."I think I was ordered by Eddie to fire Bill Walsh approximately seven, maybe eight times," former 49ers executive Carmen Policy said. "And there were times when Bill deserved it."Of course, DeBartolo never went through with it. And their working relationship continued for 10 seasons.The most devastating loss of the late Walsh's career occurred when the 49ers, who had established themselves as the favorite to win the Super Bowl after the 1987 season, lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.The next season, the 49ers won the Super Bowl, and a burnt-out Walsh stepped down. Walsh was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. Walsh died in 2007."I don't think, without Eddie, Bill could've done it," Dwight Clark said.Said Randy Cross, "Bill, he was a giant in the NFL. But it was Eddie behind the scenes that made a lot of those things even possible."Under DeBartolo, the 49ers paid the highest salaries, traveled in luxury and every player had his own hotel room. During a three-year span, the 49ers won an NFL record 18 consecutive road games."All of it was due to him," Ronnie Lott said. "The way we traveled was the way we played."Added Jerry Rice, "It was always first class, and it was because of him.""A Football Life" focuses on DeBartolo's personal touch with the players -- how he cared about them and their families during and even after their playing days were over."There wasn't anybody in the NFL who didn't want to be one of his guys," Joe Montana said.The program opens in February at a church in Tampa, Fla., with DeBartolo speaking at the memorial service of former 49ers receiver Freddie Solomon, who died of colon cancer."I'm grateful Freddie had Eddie through this whole ordeal," said Dee Solomon, Freddie's wife.DeBartolo built a family atmosphere around the 49ers, so it was devastating to him when then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue suspended him in 1999 after pleading guilty to the felony offense of failure to report an extortion attempt involving former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards.In a messy family squabble, DeBartolo and his sister, Denise York, separated their assets. York took control of the 49ers. And DeBartolo was out of the NFL."I think it's hurt more than anything that's happened in his life, other than losing his parents," Montana said. "That was his pride and joy. So I'm sure it hurt deeply."Today, DeBartolo speaks regularly with his sister and his nephew, 49ers CEO Jed York. He was an inaugural enshrinee into the the Edwards J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame in 2009."We have a big legacy to up up to," Jed York said of his uncle.

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