Niners make DeBartolo first honored by Hall

The 49ers didn't wait long to announce their first new inductee to the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. Hall of Fame. And it's a name that certainly belongs there and will sing synonymous with the team patriarch for which the Hall is named.

Just a week after announcing the creation of the Hall with a list of 16 original inductees, the 49ers have added the team owner that presided over the team's rise to greatness during the 1980s – Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.

Eddie DeBartolo's father bought the team for him in 1977, and the younger DeBartolo a few years later made the shrewd move of hiring Bill Walsh to guide the franchise. DeBartolo then oversaw the team's two-decade dynasty that saw the 49ers win five Super Bowl championships.

DeBartolo was known as a players' owner who held back no expense in making his team the best it could be, which the 49ers often were throughout the 1980s and 1990s. DeBartolo stepped away as team owner in 1997 because of legal issues.

"I can't think of a single person that is more deserving of this honor than my uncle," 49ers team president Jed York said. "With a distinct vision, he took over an average team and transformed it into arguably the greatest dynasty in professional sports over a 20-year span. We are excited to have an opportunity to recognize all of Eddie's contributions to the 49ers organization during the upcoming season."

DeBartolo actually will be honored by the Hall before the other 16 original members. He'll be inducted during halftime of the team's Sept. 20 home opener against the Seattle Seahawks. The initial members of the 49ers Hall of Fame will be recognized formally during alumni weekend on Oct. 11, when today's 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons before the team goes on its bye week.

Sunday's announcement of DeBartolo's induction coincidentally falls on his father's birthday. DeBartolo Sr. would have been 100 years old today. He died in 1994, less than two months before the 49ers won their fifth and final Super Bowl title.

"This is such a great honor for me," DeBartolo said. "I would like to thank my nephew Jed and the entire 49ers family for selecting me to be the first member of the 49ers Hall of Fame. I was truly fortunate to have had so many great people around me, starting with my dear friend, and the greatest coach of all time, the late Bill Walsh, and the Hall of Fame players who one day will be inducted alongside me into the 49ers Hall of Fame. I always say I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but I was really born 32 years ago in San Francisco when my family acquired the 49ers."

Still beloved to this day by his players, coaches and a multitude of 49ers' fans far and wide, DeBartolo is widely regarded as one of the most successful owners in the history of professional sports after taking over the 49ers in 1977.

In 23 years at the helm, he guided the 49ers to a 22-11 postseason record and 13 division titles as San Francisco became the first franchise in NFL history to win five Super Bowl championships (1981, '84, '88, '89 and '94). The 49ers reached the playoffs on 16 occasions during DeBartolo's final 18 seasons as owner, posting a 207-72-1 regular season record.

During his tenure, 39 different players accounted for 111 separate Pro Bowl selections.

"We have witnessed many great owners in sports, but in my mind, there has been no greater owner than Mr. Eddie DeBartolo," said 49ers great and Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. "He set the highest standard, and has raised the bar for all the other owners to reach. The way he treated people, the way he built his franchise and the way he won. He made things personal and not many owners make it personal. Mr. D was so filled with pride, so driven and passionate about building the team into something great, and look at what he accomplished: five Super Bowl victories and the building of one of the most dominating franchises in NFL history.

"He had an enormous impact on all of our lives and his determination to win changed the entire Bay Area forever. Mr. D stands alone at the top."

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