CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Edward DeBartolo Jr., who as owner of the 49ers helped build one of the NFL’s dynasties, is a finalist for the 2016 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor.
DeBartolo was nominated Wednesday by the nine-member contributors committee. Elections will be held on Feb. 6, the night before the Super Bowl. DeBartolo, 68, must receive 80 percent of the ballots to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Under DeBartolo’s ownership, San Francisco won five Super Bowls in the 1980s and ‘90s. They won at least 10 games in 17 seasons and appeared in 10 conference title games.
“People talk about San Francisco and how things are,” DeBartolo said in a phone interview from his ranch in Montana. “The song really is, you leave your heart in San Francisco. And I certainly did. I left some blood, sweat and tears, too. I had great moments and I had great friends, and it was great being with the people that I was with. It was just a wonderful experience.”
DeBartolo bought the team in 1977. In his best move, DeBartolo hired coach Bill Walsh, then went about building a team for him. Walsh and other Hall of Famers on those teams include Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young and Charles Haley. DeBartolo presented Montana, Rice, Walsh, Fred Dean and Haley for induction into the Canton shrine.
A popular owner with the players, DeBartolo was known for spending freely to make sure San Francisco was a popular landing spot for free agents, and a comfortable place for all 49ers to stay.
“My life kind of flashed before me going back to the early days with Bill and with all our great players and all the great players that we played against,” DeBartolo said. “The culmination of my entire football life.
“They all kind of jumbled together, starting off in 1977 and bringing Bill in in 1979. The draft that we had that started everything, and all the great players that went through our doors and played at Candlestick and on the field. Everything just goes through your mind.
“I never expected this. It’s very, very humbling.”
DeBartolo owned the team until 1998, when legal problems forced him to turn over the 49ers to his sister, Denise.