NEW ORLEANS -- Before the 46-member selection committee meets Saturday to choose the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class for 2013, there's something Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and other former 49ers would like to say on behalf of their former owner.
"This is a no-brainer. I'm actually embarrassed that Eddie DeBartolo is not already in," said Brent Jones, a 49ers tight end from 1987-97. "He's as good an owner as there's ever been in professional sports. There will never be another Eddie. There may be people who try to be like him, but there will never be another Eddie."
DeBartolo Jr. is one of the 15 modern-era Hall of Fame finalists this year, a group that also includes a pair of first-time nominees with Bay Area ties, offensive lineman Larry Allen (49ers, 2006-07) and defensive tackle Warren Sapp (Raiders, 2004-07).
Voting results will be announced at 2:30 p.m. PST during a one-hour special on the NFL Network.
DeBartolo owned the 49ers from 1977-2000, a span during which the 49ers became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls. But his Hall of Fame hopes have been thwarted largely because of his connection to the corruption case of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in the late 1990s.
In advance of Saturday's announcement, we contacted several 49ers icons and asked them this question: If you could stand up in the room Saturday and address the selection committee, what would you say?
Here's a sampling of their
ON DEBARTOLO'S LEGACY
Carmen Policy (49ers executive, 1983-98): "If you're talking about a business Hall of Fame, you'd have to say Steve Jobs belongs because he thought about things differently. Eddie was that kind of visionary. He was not the most brilliant financial guy in terms of crunching numbers, but he changed the NFL's treatment of players. ... His message to players was, 'OK, if you're going to go out there and lay it all on the line, I'm going to lay it all on the line for you. I may not be able to help you on the field, but I'm going to help you out in every other way I can.'"
Lott (defensive back 1981-90): "If you look at today's game, and how owners think in all sports, it was led by Eddie DeBartolo. And what I mean by that is that owners now have more of an appreciation for the athletes that played for them. ... Other prominent teams saw that they had to raise their bar. They had to create a better environment. Now, facilities are better. If you look around the league, Eddie was one of the first to build a nice facility. So he did a lot of things that owners had to do and forced other owners to do to show that they could keep up."
Montana (quarterback, 1979-92): "I think that there is no one more deserving for the Hall of Fame. The culture has changed, and it's because Eddie and Bill Walsh were able to change the way the game was played for a while. The guys on our team looked at him like he was another player. He was not like a regular owner. You could look in his eyes and just see that he had the fire and that he had the love. I don't think I've met anyone who had more love for the organization or the NFL than Eddie D."
ON THE PLAYERS AS FAMILY
Harris Barton (offensive lineman, 1987-96): "When my father got sick, probably my fifth or sixth year, Mr. D was instrumental in getting my father in to see some of the best doctors in the world. That was an unbelievable gesture for him to do something like that. I ended up having my father come out to see Dr. Charlie Wilson, who was the noted brain tumor specialist at UCSF. Without a call from Mr. D, my dad would have never gotten in. Mr. DeBartolo expected greatness. He expected hard work. He expected class guys. He was leading the way in being a class individual and a caring person."
Lott: "John Madden and I were just talking about this: When you think of Al Davis and Paul Brown and the Rooney family and some other great owners -- they would take care of the players that played for them even after they retired. That's essential to their ownership, that they view everyone as part of their family. To me, that's Hall-of-Fame stuff."
Policy: "Jeff Fuller (a former safety) suffered a spinal injury in a game against the Patriots and was paralyzed on one side of his body. Eddie went to him in the hospital and said, 'I'm not just saying this in the moment: We're going to take care of you.' And he did. He handled his medical care, sometimes flying him on his own plane. He set up a trust fund, and replenished it when things went wrong. At one point the league came to the 49ers and said, 'How did Eddie do this? What did he do?' The NFL used it as a model for how the league would handle future devastating injuries. Eddie opened their eyes. He turned the lights on.
Montana: "He's one of those owners that went beyond the call of duty for people that played for him. The greatest thing I got from my experience was that relationship. Everybody was family to him."
ON RAISING THE BAR
Rice: "Five Super Bowls, man, that's a body of work. What he was able to do to the game of football, the coaches that he brought in -- Bill Walsh and his legacy -- and the tree of coaches that have gone on to become head coaches. Eddie was one of the best owners."
Barton: "I realized from Day 1 that he was special, just based on the way we were all treated, the way we traveled. There was a dedication to being the best."
Montana: "Bill and Eddie were complete opposites when it comes to temperament. Bill was more quiet. But their relationship worked because they both had the same demands when it came to perfection and the will to win. That's how two guys who seemed nothing at all alike were united by a common bond."
ON HIS CHANCES
Rice: "He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think this society is supposed to be about forgiveness. It's time for Eddie DeBartolo to get into the Hall."
Jones: "I can hardly wait till he goes in because I will drop everything and change my whole schedule to make sure I'm there to honor a guy who deserves the honor more than anybody."
Policy: "He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he's one of a kind. Sports relishes the one of a kind."
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.