A week after creating a team hall of fame in honor of his grandfather, 49ers owner Jed York today announced that the first inductee would be his uncle, former team owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. Eddie D, as he is known to legions of adoring fans, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame at halftime of the team's home opener against the Seahawks on September 20.
"I can't think of a single person that is more deserving of this honor than my uncle," York said in a statement. "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."
Said DeBartolo: "This is such a great honor for me. 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."
For years DeBartolo was considered the premiere owner in professional sports. He took over one of the NFL's woebegone teams in 1977 and helped transform it into a perennial playoff power. In 23 years as owner, the 49ers had a 22-11 postseason record, 13 division titles and five Super Bowl championships (1981, '84, '88, '89 and '94).
In 1998, however, DeBartolo pleaded guilty to a federal felony involving a casino license in Louisiana. Two years later, he relinquished control of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, and her husband, Dr. John York. DeBartolo had no involvement with the team with John York in charge of day-to-day operations. The Yorks recently have given more control to their son, Jed, who is close to his uncle and who speaks him regularly. In fact, Jed York said last week that he consulted DeBartolo before forming the new 49ers hall of fame.
The 16 49ers who are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or have had their jersey numbers retired by the team have been automatically inducted into the team hall of fame. One player not on that list, receiver Jerry Rice, is a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
-- Matt Barrows