Dances with Luck

Eddie Debartolo is a revered figure in 49er land, and rightly so. It was during his tenure, that the 49ers won five Super Bowls and were an NFL powerhouse for 20+ years. However, he was, in the long run, a very poor owner and was directly responsible for the past ten years of franchise disarray.

This thought is usually a form of heresy to Niner fans, but they speak from their hearts, not their heads. Mostly, Eddie was flat out lucky to be in the right place at the right time, where even his vices turned out to be virtues — for a while. His run of success was due almost entirely to Bill Walsh and when Walsh left, the franchise quickly disintegrated. His hires before Walsh and after Walsh were total disasters. And his petulant and abusive personality played a significant role in hastening Walsh’s decision to retire.

Eddie possessed the redeeming qualities of generosity and genuine fondness and loyalty for his players, coupled with his profligate spending habits. Unfortunately, his attention to duty lasted only about ten years, to one generation of players, and those are not at all the qualities necessary for a franchise owner and long term success. Eddie had no long term view. Everything was instant gratification to him. A kid in a candy shop.

The franchise began to crumble in the ’90’s, but there were still so many holdover star players and coaches from Walsh’s teams that nobody much noticed the rot that was setting in. Or wanted to notice, perhaps. When the generation of players that brought Eddie his success got old and either retired or left via Plan B free agency, Eddie lost interest in the team (his toy) and turned it over to his crony Carmen Policy, while Eddie poured his attention into the gambling ventures in Louisiana that led to his downfall.

Policy was a slick operator, more style than substance, who maintained the 49er fortunes not by hiring good people, but by cheating on the salary cap. It was this cheating that eventually came to light under the York’s regime and resulted in completely gutting the team of any and all talent. And it was his hiring of Dwight Clark as GM that led to a three year period of disastrous drafts and FA signings. Add two or three more years of nobody in charge of anything because Eddie was under indictment and barred from the franchise operations, and you have a recipe for becoming the Cleveland Browns in a hurry, which is fittingly where Policy and Clark took their act and achieved the same wasted results. Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Bobb McKittrick held the whole crumbling house together, but when Young went down at the beginning of the 1999 season, the end came quickly.

That is no way to run a franchise or any other business. 49er fans have made a habit of blaming the Yorks for the past ten years, but they inherited Eddie’s mess and are cleaning it up, methodically and no doubt more slowly than fans would like, setting the franchise up for long term stability and viability — something that never occurred to Eddie or did not attract his interest. Jed York will be a far better owner than Eddie ever was. Jed is committed to being an owner, a good one, and not just playing cards for a few years till he moves on to other pursuits.

It’s often said about sports that it is better to be lucky than good. In Eddie’s case, and 49er fans, no truer words can apply. But luck sooner or later runs out. And Eddie’s did.

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12 comments on “Dances with Luck
  1. BergerNo Gravatar says:

    The funny thing about the hiring of Walsh is the guy who wanted to hire him was Joe Thomas but Walsh wouldn’t take the job with Thomas as GM. The next year Eddie fired Thomas and hired Walsh. So Walsh was actually spotted by our terrible GM Thomas. At least that is the way I heard it. Do you remember that situation any different Mr Skeebs, or have better details?

  2. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    I never heard that one, Mr. Lasorda. But Eddie hired Thomas in part from a recommendation by Al Davis, so you would think maybe Eddie might have wondered if Davis actually had the best interests of a competing franchise in his heart. I presume he had a heart then. Could be wrong.

  3. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    I see both Walt Harris and Terrence Cody failed their conditioning tests in Baltimore. Looks like Walt ain’t as far back as he said he was and the fat boy’s been loafing since the OTAs.

  4. BergerNo Gravatar says:

    Speaking of Mr Lasorda, I did the hill yesterday with Tommy in tow. I had a terrible time and wasn’t very winded when I was done. I was really upset at myself for a lack of heart. I thought about blaming Lasorda but just couldn’t do it. Anyway, when I was done I ran two 90 yard sprints up the hill instead of one, for a penalty, so I wouldn’t feel so guilty about my piece of shit effort.
    I’m not working out today. I’m thinking I’ve been at it to many days in a row and my muscles are sore. I’ll attack the hill with more vigor tomorrow, and hopefully without Tommy in tow.

  5. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    I see Rob finally made bail and is back online. What’s this, his third arrest for assaulting a police officer with exclamation points?

  6. BergerNo Gravatar says:

    When he posted I called his number. It is disconnected.

  7. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    On the lam with an iphone.

  8. unca_chuckNo Gravatar says:

    You conveniently forget the Donohue era of the team, Skeebs. Donohue was Walsh’s guy, but failed miserably in the draft and at other aspects of GMing.

    To say their problems now are of Eddie’s doing is sinmpleminded at best. The salary cap hell had been dealt with and overcome as of 2006. Dr. York fucked around for quite a while before turning things over to Jed. Jed seems to have a clue. Dr. Dork didn’t.

    The issues leading up to this season have been acquiring talent, signing FAs, and coaching. Eddie has nothing to do with those issues.

    The thing I remember about the Walsh hire is that the two candidates were Mike White from Cal, and Walsh from Stanford. White was the front-runner (and the media pick) as I remember it.

  9. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    I didn’t forget Donahue, but he wouldn’t have been here if Eddie hadn’t screwed up. The article was about Eddie being “responsible” for what happened, not who all pitched in after the mess happened. John York is now playing a significant role at league headquarters and also set the table for restoring the franchise when he hired Nolan. The hatred for him is way over the top.

  10. unca_chuckNo Gravatar says:

    Still and all, what Dr. York did when he took over was stupid beyond the pale. He disavowed anyone and anything relating to the glory days of the franchise. He turned the place from one where players wanted to go, to one where no one did. The charging for water was just the tip of the iceberg back then. He still hasn’t hired an experienced GM. The teams doesn’t even HAVE a GM.  

    It all may work this season, and into the future, but I’d think that a lot of these problems from the past 5 years could have been handled if York had hired SOMEONE with a better resume than what Nolan broughgt in 05.  

    To say Eddie is directly responsible for anything past 04, again, is ludicrous.
    After the 04 season, the cap issues were mostly over. Donohue was ousted, along with Dennis Erickson, and the team had the No 1 pick and a GM to hire. Indirectly? Sure. The fact that they’ve not gotten near the playoffs in the past 6 years is a testament to how York ran the team, not Eddie’s fiddling while Candlestick burned.

  11. SkeebersNo Gravatar says:

    You keep missing the point of the article, Chuck. It was Eddie’s failure that led to the disarray. I didn’t blame him for any particular thing or event afterward, only for causing it all to happen. John York would not have been thrust into a situation he had no experience in, or maybe even any interest in, had Eddie simply been a diligent owner But again, the article is not about the Yorks or Donahue or Nolan. It’s all about Eddie.

  12. unca_chuckNo Gravatar says:

    Well, then it’s wrong . . .

2021 Schedules
09/12: W 49ers 41, Lions 33
09/19: W 49ers 17, Eagles 11
09/26: L Packers 30, 49ers 28
10/03: L Seahawks 28, 49ers 21
10/10: L Cardinals 17, 49ers 10
10/17 BYE
10/24: L Colts 30, 49ers 18
10/31: W 49ers 33, Bears 22
11/07: L Cardinals 31, 49ers 17
11/15: W 49ers 31, Rams 10L
11/21: W 49ers 30, Jaguars 10
11/28: W 49ers 34, Vikings 26
12/05: L Seahawks 30, 49ers 23 12/12 · 10:00 AMCIN
12/19 · 1:05 PM v ATL
12/23 · 5:20 PM v TEN
01/02 · 1:05 PM v HOU
01/09 · 1:25 PM @ LAR

2021 Draft Class
1. QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
2. OG Aaron Banks, Notre Dame
3. RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State
3. CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan
5. OG/OT Jaylon Moore, Western Michigan
5. CB Deommodore Lenoir, Oregon
5. S Talanoa Hufanga, USC
6. RB Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
2021 Prognostications
Bullit: 12-5
Grumpy: 13-4
NJ49er: 11-6
Skeebers: 14-3
Winder: 12-5
Rob: 17-0
Spitblood: 0-17