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February 3, 2012
Canton or bust: DeBartolo battling Parcells for hall-of-fame votes

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The battle between the 49ers and Giants rages on. In a meeting room of the Indianapolis JW Marriott on Saturday, 44 NFL writers from around the country will debate which of 15 modern-day Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists deserve a bust in the hall. Two of the most recognizable names: former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. and Bill Parcells, the former Giants coach.

The problem is that neither man played in the NFL, and getting a single non-player - much less two - into a hall-of-fame class is difficult. One voter predicted Friday that either Parcells or DeBartolo would have to be eliminated in the first round of voting or they would end up cancelling each other out in the final vote. Another said that DeBartolo's chances are "probably better than 50-50." Others are more skeptical.

Adding to the debate is a provincial split that pits West Coast voters who favor DeBartolo against East Coast voters who will side with Parcells.

Parcells, who compiled a 183-138-1 record as head coach, was the first coach to take four separate teams to the playoffs, and he won two Super Bowls with the Giants. Parcells also was a finalist in 2001 and 2002 but was not selected because voters suspected - correctly - that his retirement at the time would not last.

This is the first time that DeBartolo, the 49ers' owner from 1977-2000, is a finalist, and thus the first time that voters will debate his candidacy. The argument against him is threefold, according to voters.

The first is that, unlike other owners already in the hall of fame, such as late Raiders owner Al Davis, DeBartolo did not have an impact on the formation of the league and merely wrote checks for talented lieutenants like John McVay, Bill Walsh and George Seifert.

Others cite the Louisiana gambling scandal of 1997 that eventually caused DeBartolo to relinquish control of the team to his sister, Denise, and her husband, John York. Supporters note that DeBartolo was the victim in that case - former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards extorted $400,000 from him to win a casino license - and that DeBartolo has since been exonerated by the NFL.

The third knock on DeBartolo involves salary-cap violations in the late 1990s that resulted in nearly $1 million in fines and the loss of two 49ers draft picks. Supporters argue that if that type of mischief prevents an owner from reaching the hall of fame, it will make it difficult for future candidates, such as the Patriots' Robert Kraft, whose team was embroiled in the spygate scandal, to be inducted in coming years.

This year appears to be an excellent one for a non-player like Parcells or DeBartolo to get into the hall of fame because there are no players, such as Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith, who are shoo-ins. And there is precedent for two non-football classmates: Both a coach, Don Shula, and an owner, the Giants' Wellington Mara, were inducted in 1997.

The best argument for DeBartolo: His teams made it to the playoffs 16 times, won 13 division titles, played in 10 championship games and became the first to win five Super Bowls. During that time, DeBartolo set a standard in the modern era, not just in the NFL but in all of professional sports, in the spare-no-expenses way he ran his club.

A number of current owners, including the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, the Patriots' Kraft and the Broncos' Pat Bowlen, sought DeBartolo's counsel upon purchasing their clubs. And DeBartolo remains a heavy influence on the man now running the 49ers, nephew Jed York, with whom he speaks regularly.

"He's been one of the greatest owners in the history of professional sports," York said this week. "And he's been a great inspiration to me and many people involved with sports."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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