Edward DeBartolo, Jr. San Francisco 49ers
“You have to be able to have a grasp of everything. I have a grasp of the organization. I make all the final (major) decisions. And that’s the way we're going to be. We have good people there who are able to run that operation. And we've got a great rapport…a great interaction. And that's what it takes to make a good organization.”
Ed DeBartolo, Jr. purchased the San Francisco 49ers in 1977 with a vision to create a top-notch organization, on and off the field. He succeeded in his goal as he led the franchise to unprecedented winning during the time of his tenure as the team’s Chief Executive Officer.
The transformation was not instant as the 49ers suffered back-to-back 2-14 seasons to close out the decade. In 1979, he hired 47-year-old Bill Walsh as the team’s head coach, drafted a quarterback from his alma mater Notre Dame by the name of Joe Montana, and created an atmosphere conducive to winning. The fortunes of the franchise changed soon thereafter. By 1981, the 49ers finished 13-3 to claim the NFC Western Division title and then won hard fought playoff battles with the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and capped the year with a thrilling 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. The season marked just the beginning for a team that would soon completely dominate the decade and continue their winning ways throughout DeBartolo’s term as CEO.
DeBartolo, who had a reputation as a “players’ owner” created a first-class atmosphere and infused the roster with talent that resulted in San Francisco enjoying an amazing string of winning seasons. The team averaged an astounding 13 wins per season, including playoffs, during a span from 1981 to 1998 (not including the strike-shortened 1982 season). The 49ers during DeBartolo’s reign claimed 13 division titles, made 16 playoff appearances, advanced to the NFC championship game 10 times, and became the first franchise ever to win five Super Bowls.
The other DeBartolo-led 49ers teams that won Super Bowl rings came during the 1984, 1988, 1989, and 1994 seasons. San Francisco defeated Miami in Super Bowl XIX, the Bengals again in Super Bowl XXIII followed by lopsided wins over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV and the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The franchise posted the best winning percentage in the NFL in both the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. DeBartolo was named the NFL Man of the Year by the Football News in 1989 as recognition as the nation’s top sports executives.
Aside from his role with the team, DeBartolo was highly respected inside NFL circles and served on the league’s realignment and expansion committees.