CBS 5 Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell hosts “GameDay” every Sunday night at 11:30pm on KPIX CBS 5 and offers his unique sports analysis here.
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the NFC Championship victory wasn’t that the 49ers beat the Falcons, but what took place in the locker room during the presentation of the George Halas trophy. Eddie DeBartolo accepted the hardware alongside Denise DeBartolo York with proud nephew Jed York beaming in the background.
To understand how significant this moment was, you have to understand the history and what led to the demise of Eddie D’s reign as one of the greatest owners in NFL history. In short, DeBartolo was caught up in a federal investigation into Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, was bared from the NFL for one year and eventually was forced to give up control of the 49ers in 2000 to Denise.
Anyone who covered the 49ers during one of the sports great dynasties understands how committed Eddie was to this franchise and its players. While many think of “The Catch” as the beginning of the Team of the Decade, I believe it began when the DeBartolo family purchased the team in 1977. The seeds of destiny were planted and it was Eddie’s undying commitment, generosity and spirit that helped grow the most successful decade in football history.
He was forced from the thing he loved best. Even worse, it was a shameful exit, banished from the boys club and relegated to sideline spectator while being forced to watch his once proud franchise hit rock bottom. “Mr D,” as he was affectionately called by his players, was on the outside looking in.
Shortly after I joined KPIX in 2000, I arranged for Dwight Hicks and his “hot licks,” to come to the station for a round table interview. The “licks” consisted of Eric Wright, Ronnie Lott, and Carlton Williamson – who together formed the 49ers defensive backfield that terrorized every opposing receiver who dared venture into their turf. What they did not know is that I also arranged for Eddie DeBartolo to be there as well. I began the interview with a question. I can’t even recall what I asked, but it was the last question I asked. What transpired was a mesmerizing trip down memory lane. Four mighty defensive backs and Mr. D reveling in the greatest era of professional football. They relished the opportunity to talk football, challenge each other’s version of events and Eddie always seemed to have the last word. DeBartolo savored every moment, surrounded by his “family,” and it was a moment I’ll never forget.
For some reason, I’ve always felt his story wasn’t finished. Oh, he should be in Canton, of course, but that’s another blog. Then, surprisingly, there was Eddie, the Halas trophy in hand, with sister Denise saying so appropriately, “We have been through thick and thin..the dynasty will continue.”
For me, it was the best moment of the night.
See you on TV.
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