49er greats turn out for DeBartolo

Tampa resident and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. poses with his bust during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Tampa resident and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. poses with his bust during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Published Aug. 7, 2016

CANTON, Ohio — Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was always a player's owner who set the tone for a 49ers franchise that won five Super Bowls. And during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, he stood up for the players again.

"Make no mistake, history has its eyes on all of us right now," DeBartolo, 69, said. "It's about the respect and gratitude we feel for these athletes who have given their all to this game.

"We've got to do all we can to look after one another and take care of one another. Not just when the uniform is on, but when the uniform comes off, too."

DeBartolo, who lives in Tampa, was surrounded by players whom he presented for induction into the Hall, including Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Charles Haley.

He said he learned from his father, Eddie Sr., the inventor of the modern shopping mall, to treat everyone in the organization like family.

"If there is one secret to the success of the 49ers, it is this: We didn't see players as simply players," DeBartolo said. "We saw them as men. We saw them as sons, husbands, fathers and brothers with families and responsibilities. We knew that if we helped make it possible for them to bring their whole selves to work, they would give us their all."

DeBartolo said he missed coach Bill Walsh, who died in 2007. Before he died, Walsh signed a helmet that was presented to DeBartolo by Walsh's son in February. It reads, "I knew it was just a matter of time. Congratulations on your election. Love, Bill."

But the biggest turnout came in No. 4 jerseys and wearing cheeseheads. They chanted "Go Pack Go." It was Lambeau Field transported to Ohio, and only one man could have caused it.

Brett Favre, welcome to the Hall of Fame.

"Believe me, I am an extremely blessed man," Favre said during an emotional speech spiced with humor and playfulness. "Play a game that I love so much for 20 years, to have all the wonderful things happen … to share in that joy with you guys here tonight."

And when he choked up talking about his late father, Irv, and how Favre spent his career "trying to redeem myself" to make Irv proud, the crowd offered loud and comforting support.

Adding that "this is tougher than any third and 15," he spoke of his new goal once his father died in 2003: "I said to myself, I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the fact of how important he was. I would not be here before you today without my father, there's no doubt whatsoever."

Joining Favre, DeBartolo and former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy in the class of 2016 were Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace and Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel.

Harrison's 143 receptions in 2002 are an NFL record. He retired in 2008 with 1,102 catches, now third behind Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez.

"I worked extremely hard to get to this point," said the Colts' first-round draft choice in 1996. "I played my first NFL game right on this very field."

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Pace was the blocking cornerstone of the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf that won the 1999 NFL title. The top overall draft pick in 1997, he helped turn running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner into NFL MVPs.

"This occasion marks the fulfilment of each and every goal I have had," Pace said. "This became my first goal, and here I am 27 years later standing in Canton, Ohio, accepting this incredible honor.

Always a showman who also spent some time as a pro wrestler, Greene usually found the path to quarterbacks. His 160 career sacks are third most in NFL history. In 15 pro seasons for four franchises, Greene played linebacker and defensive end with an unmitigated spirit.

"The best a football player can do is exhaust his passion, go out on his terms, and on the way having fun kicking people's butts with his brothers," Greene said.

In Greene's time with the Rams, Steelers, 49ers and Panthers he missed just a dozen games, and 10 times finished with at least 10 sacks, including 12 with Carolina at age 37.

Nicknamed "Snake" for his elusiveness on and off the field, Stabler helped the Raiders win their first Super Bowl and make it to four other conference championship games in a five-year span. One of the first great left-handed pro QBs, Stabler, who died last year, was elected by the seniors committee.

Stanfel, who died last year at age 87, also was a seniors committee selection. He helped the Lions win the NFL title in 1952 and '53.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.