Flathead Valley Resident DeBartolo Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame

San Francisco 49ers claimed 13 division titles and won five Super Bowls under Eddie DeBartolo

By Dillon Tabish
Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, at his office near Whitefish. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., a part-time Flathead Valley resident who built the San Francisco 49ers into an NFL dynasty that won five Super Bowls, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 2016 class of inductees was chosen Saturday with DeBartolo facing his final chance as a nominee for the NFL shrine in Canton, Ohio, his native state. DeBartolo, 69, has been a candidate three other times.

Now “Mr. D” is getting the call in San Francisco of all places, the city where he was once king and where Super Bowl 50 is taking place this weekend.

The official announcement was made Saturday night. The other inductees are Brett Favre, Tony Dungy, Ken Stabler, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace and Dick Stanfel. During a nine-hour meeting, the selection committee of 46 members debated DeBartolo’s nomination for more than 50 minutes, according to reports. Every candidate must receive at least 80 percent approval to be elected.

DeBartolo has owned the Candy Bar Ranch near Whitefish for over 30 years. He spends about half the year living in the Flathead Valley, a place he said he cherishes like home.

DeBartolo purchased the 49ers in 1977 and the team suffered back-to-back 2-14 seasons in his first two years. In 1979, he hired Bill Walsh as the team’s head coach and drafted quarterback Joe Montana. He also is credited for building a player-friendly atmosphere that was conducive to winning. From 1981 to 1998, the team averaged 13 wins per season, including playoffs, from 1981 to 1998, not including the strike-shortened 1982 season.

Under DeBartolo, the 49ers 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 franchise posted the best winning percentage in the NFL in both the decades of the 1980s and 1990s.

DeBartolo was involved in the 1998 corruption case of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards. He pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to report a felony, and received a $1 million fine and two years of probation in return for his testimony against Edwards.

After pleading guilty, DeBartolo stepped down from the 49ers.

His transgressions clearly affected his chances of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recent years, but former players, such as Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, have all spoken out in support of DeBartolo. 

DeBartolo will be enshrined in August.

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