NEW ORLEANS — Before the 46-member selection committee meets Saturday to choose the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class for 2013, there's something Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and other former 49ers would like to say on behalf of their former owner.
"This is a no-brainer. I'm actually embarrassed that Eddie DeBartolo is not already in," said Brent Jones, a 49ers tight end from 1987-97. "He's as good an owner as there's ever been in professional sports. There will never be another Eddie. There may be people who try to be like him, but there will never be another Eddie."
DeBartolo Jr. is one of the 15 modern-era Hall of Fame finalists this year, a group that includes a pair of first-time nominees with Bay Area ties, offensive lineman Larry Allen (49ers, 2006-07) and defensive tackle Warren Sapp (Raiders, 2004-07). Others eligible for the Hall include Cleveland and Baltimore owner Art Modell.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee has been slow to embrace contributors. Several players Sapp, Allen and Michael Strahan are strong candidates in today's voting. That might leave only one spot to split among other players, owners such as DeBartolo and the late Art Modell (Ravens), as well as coach Bill Parcells.
The 46-member selection committee has shown a tendency to reward players first. But if DeBartolo gains entrance into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, he will have trouble containing his emotions again.
Results will be announced at 2:30 p.m. during a one-hour special on the NFL Network.
DeBartolo owned the 49ers from 1977-2000, a span during which the 49ers became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls. But his Hall of Fame hopes have been thwarted largely because of his connection to the corruption case of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards in the late 1990s.
In advance of today's announcement, several 49ers icons were asked: If you could stand up in the room and address the selection committee, what would you say?
Here's a sampling of their responses:
CARMEN POLICY (49ers executive, 1983-98): "If you're talking about a business Hall of Fame, you'd have to say Steve Jobs belongs because he thought about things differently. Eddie was that kind of visionary. He was not the most brilliant financial guy in terms of crunching numbers, but he changed the NFL's treatment of players. ... He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he's one of a kind. Sports relishes the one of a kind." HARRIS BARTON (offensive lineman, 1987-96): "When my father got sick, probably my fifth or sixth year, Mr. D was instrumental in getting my father into see some of the best doctors in the world. That was an unbelievable gesture for him to do something like that. I ended up having my father come out see Dr. Charlie Wilson, who was the noted brain tumor specialist at UCSF. Without a call from Mr. D, my dad would have never gotten in."Mr. DeBartolo expected greatness. He expected hard work. He expected class guys. He was leading the way in being a class individual and a caring person."
RONNIE LOTT (defensive back, 1981-90): "John Madden and I were just talking about this: When you think of Al Davis and Paul Brown and the Rooney Family and some other great owners they would take care of the players that played for them even after they retired. That's essential to their ownership, that they view everyone as part of their family. To me, that's Hall-of-Fame stuff."
JOE MONTANA (quarterback, 1979-92): "If you look around the league, Eddie was one of the first to build a nice facility. So he did a lot of things that owners had to do and forced other owners to do to show that they could keep up. ... He's one of those owners that went beyond the call of duty for people that played for him. The greatest thing I got from my experience was that relationship. Everybody was family to him. You could look in his eyes and just see that he had the fire and that he had the love." JERRY RICE (receiver, 1985-2000): "He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think this society is supposed to be about forgiveness. It's time for Eddie DeBartolo to get into the Hall." BRENT JONES (tight end, 1987-1997): "I can hardly wait till he goes in because I will drop everything and change my whole schedule to make sure I'm there to honor a guy who deserves the honor more than anybody."