Edward DeBartolo, Jr. Enshrinement speech
Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium
August 6, 2016
Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.:
Oh, boy. Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm so short I had to get on a box (laughing). Thank you so much. There is so much red and gold and green and gold here today, I thought for a minute I was at another NFC Championship game. I don't know about Joe Montana, but I think we could probably talk Brett Favre out of retirement.
I am so humbled and honored to be standing here today. I have a confession to make: I could be the only inductee of this great Hall who didn't make his high school football team. To share this stage with these amazing gentlemen behind me today is more than humbling. We all may be wearing the same jackets, but they have shoes that I could never, ever fill.
I am forever grateful to be viewed as a contributor to a sport that has defined my professional existence. I want to thank the Pro Football Hall of Fame for this honor and especially president David Baker for his terrific staff and leadership. Sincere thanks to the city of Canton, and, above all, I have so much love for the 49er faithful who travel to be here.
There are about a dozen ways my life has come full circle today. It is not lost on me that I was elected to the Hall of Fame at Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco and that I stand here tonight about 40 miles from where I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio.
As a kid, I used to take the train with my Cousin Ronnie and two friends on Sundays from downtown Youngstown to the terminal tower in Cleveland and go to all the Browns games to see the great Jim Brown, who is a dear friend of mine today.
I came here to Canton about a year after the Hall opened. It had just two rooms then, but as I looked around at the names, George Halas, Art Rooney, Tim Mara, I thought it was one of the most amazing places on earth. It is beyond my wildest dreams that my name will now be alongside theirs.
Funny story about this bust. Back in 1982 the 49ers had won our first Super Bowl, Bill Walsh wanted to create a bust of the two of us. So he called a sculptor he had met in Utah by the name of Blair Buswell. He came down and did this mini sculpture. We asked him what his dream was. He said he wanted to make Hall of Fame busts one day, so we made a call. In the 34 years since, Blair has created over 80 Hall of Fame busts, including mine.
For me, one of the biggest honors today is joining my guys, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Freddy Dean, Steve Young, and of course the great Bill Walsh.
It's no secret what a big part they played in me being here today. I'm especially proud to join them with the rest of my family, starting with my daughter, Lisa, who you just heard from. People ask if the wait to get here was long. Let me tell you, the longest day of my life was October 17th, 1989. That was the day that Lisa and her sister, Tiffanie, were driving from the college in the Bay Area to meet Joe Montana and Dwight Clark at the World Series game. They had to take the Bay Bridge to get there. It was the same night the big earthquake hit San Francisco. We turned on the television in Youngstown to see that the bridge had collapsed. We couldn't reach them. None of the phones worked. All my dad and my wife and I could do was pray. About an hour later, we got a call from Dwight saying, “all is well. We have the girls with us. They're safe. Thank God. They had already crossed the bridge.”
To me, that was the greatest catch of Dwight Clark's career. I'm so proud to have represented the city of San Francisco. We went through some very tough times together in the 1980s, but with the leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, representative Nancy Pelosi, mayors Willie Brown and Frank Jordan, we were able to persevere and thrive as a community.
Of course Lisa went on to be our family spokesperson. She's here with her husband, Don, and two of my grandsons, Milo and Jasper. She's a terrific mother and an incredibly passionate in her leadership of the DeBartolo Family Foundation, which supports many charitable endeavors. Lisa, I love you and your family so very much.
Tiffanie is a great writer and businesswoman who has authored books and screenplays with a work ethic worthy of the Hall. I'm so proud of you, Tiffanie, and I love you and your husband, Scott, so very much.
My youngest daughter, Nikki, is probably the most like me. Maybe that's why people say she's her dad's favorite. But my girls know that they're all my favorites. Like Lisa, she pours her heart into helping the community with our family foundation. I've had the joy of watching her become a very, very caring mother, and she's here with her husband, Chad; my oldest grandson, Asher; his father, Ben. I love you guys so much.
I'm also privileged to be joined by my sister, Denise, and her wonderful family today.
Lastly, I feel blessed and thankful to be sharing this day with my beautiful wife of 48 years, Candy. True story. I was 16 years old the first time I saw her sitting in front of me at a high school football game, and I leaned over to a friend of mine and said, I'm going to marry that girl. I never, never would have been here without her. She's the cornerstone of our family, an exceptional mother, grandmother and wife, who took care of our girls and went through all the ups and downs of our family owning the 49ers. She remains the light of our lives. I love you so much, Candy.
I wish my mom and dad could be here tonight. I like to imagine they're somewhere with Bill Walsh listening to Freddie Solomon tell one of his stories. But the story of the 49ers in the 1980s and '90s is really the story of family. Ultimately family is what my life and career have been all about. Truly I have lived the American dream. I learned everything from my dad who lost his own father to pneumonia in 1909. My grandmother suddenly widowed and pregnant with my dad and left to care for her two-year-old daughter got in a boat and set out for America. She spoke no English and she had no money. She made her way to Youngstown and married a wonderful man by the name of Michael DeBartolo. He had a construction company and taught my dad his business. The best decision my father made was marrying my mother, Marie, who, like Candy, was the glue of our family. She doesn't get enough credit for my dad's success.
My dad didn't just run his business. He absolutely lived it. Every person who worked for us in Youngstown, and the 15,000 or so we had out in the field, were treated like part of the family. We knew all their names. We knew the names of their children. We knew that if everyone was working toward the same goal we'd all be a success.
I tried to carry that on when I went to San Francisco in 1977, and imagine the jitters I felt as a 30-year-old kid walking into the first owners meeting, hearing the roll called out by the legendary Pete Rozelle, Halas, Mara, Rooney, Hunt, Davis. I remember thinking: What the hell am I doing here?
For the first couple of years, more than a few people in San Francisco asked that same question. Because of my father, I understood how our success didn't just depend on the owner or the players, but on everybody.
I stand here today for the equipment managers and the groundskeepers and the laundry crew who worked hard every day. I stand here for the executive assistants, the PR team, and the interns who work through the weekends. I stand here for the scouts and the bus drivers, and the cooks and the schedulers and the dog vendors and the community reps who might never, ever see their name in lights, but who are every bit as important to building a winning football franchise as the players we root for on Sunday.
There are simply too many people who played a very, very special part in our success to mention here today. But all of you know who you are, and I'm so grateful to you, and I love you all very much.
If there is one secret to the success of the 49ers, it is this: We did not see players as simply players. We saw them as men. We saw them as sons, husbands, fathers, 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. That's why we welcomed mothers, wives, girlfriends and children to the team, sent gifts to them on special occasions and celebrated with them on holidays. We weren't just a family on Sundays. We were a family every single day.
We had the best team on and off the field. Carmen Policy, who has always joked that he was my brother from another mother, was one of the premier executives in the NFL. John McVay never got enough credit for being one of the league's best general managers. Tony Razzano ran one of the best scouting departments in the country.
The turning point, of course, is when God blessed me with the good judgment to hire a gentleman by the name of Bill Walsh, and he was just that, he was a gentle man. I met Bill at the Fairmont Hotel. We talked about family and ideas and how important the team was to the city of San Francisco. I don't think we were in that room for longer than 15 minutes, and I just knew.
Of course he changed the game with his West Coast offense. He tried to explain it to me a few times, but it was trying to teach physics to a two-year-old. We didn't know it at the time, but we ended up finding the perfect quarterback to run the offense. It was the third round of the 1979 draft, and I remember standing outside our makeshift office in Redwood City, California. Bill came out and said, “there is this kid from Notre Dame on the board. Should we take a shot with him in the third round?” Having graduated from South Bend I said, how can you go wrong with somebody from Notre Dame?
So we drafted Joe Montana, and he came out the next day. I looked at him and almost fell over. He was a kid. He had a big Fu Manchu mustache. He looked like he weighed about 170 pounds. He was listed at 6'2", and he didn't look an inch past 6 foot. I said: Oh, dear God.
It turns out that was just his secret identity, because when he got on the football field, Joe Montana turned into superman. People always ask me what I remember about the catch. There was about a minute left and we were driving. I wanted to be on the field with the guys, so I went through the tunnel and out of the dugout. I was trying to see what was happening, but I was behind the biggest horse that you could ever imagine, with the police officer on him about 12 feet above me. Then I heard the screams of the crowd and looked up to the officer. He put his thumb up and winked and said, Clark, touchdown. That's how I found out. At our moment of glory, I was literally blocked by a horse's ass.
To this day, Dwight won't let Joe forget the team's most famous play is known as "The Catch." I got the last laugh, though. The goalpost that Dwight caught the ball under is in my backyard in Montana. I had to move it to my ranch right before the stadium was demolished.
We had so many great players. Fred Dean joined us halfway through the 1981 season. After barely practicing, he went out that Sunday and sacked Danny White three times. A quiet giant. Fred never let us down when we needed a big play.
I also thank God for Ronnie Lott. Ronnie played with such passion that I think he was practically in the Hall of Fame before he strapped on his first helmet. I asked him over and over again to give me that pinky he lost after he got it crushed trying to tackle Timmy Newsome. No such luck.
Then there's Charles Haley, I'll never forget. We were playing the Bears in Chicago, and he got ejected from the game. I knew he'd be alone, so I went to the locker room to be with him. He saw me and said, Hey, Mr. D, they ejected you too? (Laughing). I never got over Charles leaving, but a small part of me took pride in the fact that the best defensive player on the Cowboys team was a 49er.
Jerry Rice has been our hero both on and off the dance floor. If you told Jerry as a rookie that one day he'd own 100 NFL records, I'm not sure he would have believed you. He came to camp with this really high haircut, and the guys called him Fifi. Where is he (laughing)? His first game he was wide open and he dropped the ball. I still tease him about it today.
Can I let you in on one secret, though? Do you know why Jerry looked so pretty on the field all the time? Because the man hated to be wet. He'd go into the locker room and change his uniform two or three times a game. And that's true (laughing).
As obsessive as Jerry was, Steve Young was just the opposite. He'd show up at meetings with one brown shoe on and one black shoe. I was at Disney World with my family when I traded for Steve. I made the trade on the phone with Hugh Culverhouse right then and there, and we were blessed. George Seifert turned out to be the perfect coach to follow Bill. Steve would go on to write a new chapter for the 49er family while winning a consecutive six passing titles, and later played for my very, very good friend Steve Mariucci.
Another person I wish I had spent more time with was Freddie Solomon. I'm devastated that Freddie isn't here with me today. After I moved to Tampa where he lived, Freddie became one of my dearest and closest friends, and I loved him with all of my heart. Until his very last breath, he dedicated himself to helping kids, and I never met a man who cared so much about others. After all these years, all of us still get together every couple of months along with Roger Craig, Randy Cross, Harris Barton, Bill Romanowski and dozens and dozens of our other players. All of these men are like sons and brothers to me. Their significant others are like sisters and daughters. I can tell you what all of their kids are doing today. That's what I mean by family.
Helping the men who wear the pads be successful on and off the field, that's why we started a program to help our players earn their degree in college in the off-season, and that's why we started a minority coaching program to help as many present and former players become the leaders and role models we knew that they could be.
The only thing I hated more than losing a game was losing a player to injury. When my players got hurt, I used to leave the game, meet them in the locker room or ride in the ambulance with them to the hospital. When Jeff Fuller lost the use of his arm making a tackle in 1989, I felt an obligation to make sure that he and his family were taken care of for the rest of their lives.
Frankly, I think we could use a little bit more of that sense of family in the NFL today. Thank you.
I think we could use a little bit more of that sense of duty to one another and that sense of responsibility for one another. I know that's what my good friend the Commissioner and the Players Union desperately want and are trying to do today. Make no mistake, history has its eyes on all of us right now. 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.
I was privileged to work for the people of San Francisco. Every owner, the ones that spoke tonight, says that they have the best fans in the world. But I really believe we did have the best fans in the world. They called it Camelot. They showed us every single day, every way what our team meant to them. And we tried to show what they meant to us by winning.
I wish Bill Walsh could be here today. I miss him every single day. At the very end, I was with him at Stanford hospital, it meant so much to have those last few hours together, laughing and sharing old memories. He told me that even though he wouldn't be there to see it, that he believed I would make it to this hall one day. I know that he told his good friend Dr. Harry Edwards the same thing.
Just before he died in 2007, Bill was thinking about every detail just like when he was coaching. About a week after I was selected as part of the Class of 2016, I received a package in the mail from Bill's son, Greg. It was a small 49ers helmet with Bill's autograph and a note Bill wrote that said: I knew it was just a matter of time. Congratulations on your election. Love, Bill.
I will never forget our last Super Bowl run in 1994-'95. My dad reveled in the success of the 49ers. He used to carry our four Super Bowl rings in his coat pocket on a rubber band every single day of his life. He used to take them out and show them to all of his business associates. By this point he was really sick.
We talked about going to the 49ers last home game in 1994, but he couldn't make it. I was with him at home in mid-December when we beat the Broncos. He passed away a few days later. He would have loved watching us get past Dallas and seeing us beat the Chargers in the Super Bowl.
I've never talked about this publicly, but when we got our fifth ring, we took it to my dad's final resting place, and it's with him to this day. And of course, and of course today, he and my mom are with me in my heart and in my soul. I'm standing just 40 miles from the town they raised me in. Let me tell you, it's great to be home.
From the very, very bottom of my heart, thank you for honoring me today. Thank you for honoring my family. Thank you for letting me be part of this great, fantastic game of football. May God bless our troops and may God bless this world. Thank you so much.