NFL Network's A Football Life series examines former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo—one of the true pioneers of the NFL—in its latest episode.
Bill Walsh gets most of the credit for the 49ers dynasty in the '80s, but without DeBartolo's commitment to Walsh and his players, the dynasty would have never been born.
Players loved "Mr. D" and would pour out their hearts, minds and souls for him on the football field. It's no surprise, either, if you've heard the stories about what DeBartolo did for his guys. He'd provide everything his players could possibly need or desire, just so they'd have nothing to worry about except playing the game they all loved so much.
DeBartolo took a genuine interest in each one of his players, and he would do everything in his power to help them out when they were in need.
Former assistant coach Jim Mora Jr. had this to say about DeBartolo, according to SI.com's Jim Trotter:
He was the man that was going to provide you every resource that you needed to not only win, but win it all. You really felt like he was invested in what you were doing and cared about it. He knew everyone's names, you wife's name, your kids' names. He cared about you as an individual. He cared about you as a team. He cared about your family. It was great.
During his time as the team's owner, starting in 1977, the 49ers won five Super Bowls—an unprecedented stretch of success in the NFL.
Unfortunately, DeBartolo's legacy took a hit in 1998, when he "pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony charge of failing to report that Louisiana's former governor allegedly extorted $400,000 from him to win a casino license," according to SFGate.com. His plea bargain led to a fine and suspension by the NFL that kept him out of the league for one season.
Then, in 2000, after more legal battles, DeBartolo gave up control of the 49ers to his sister, Marie Denise DeBartolo York—this time for good (h/t SFGate.com).
DeBartolo is currently one of the men who is being considered to be inducted into the NFL's Hall of Fame in 2013. Even though his legacy was tarnished by legal troubles, the fact remains that he was one of the most influential and successful football men in NFL history.
Former players revere him, and fans still love the man as if he were the owner of the team. His legacy will go down as one of the greatest the NFL has ever seen, and he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, whether it be next year or in the years to come.