Eddie Debartolo

Time for 49ers fans to give up the Eddie D. fantasy

Eddie Debartolo last game Candlestick Park Jed York Chris Berman Terrell Owens Jerry Rice

It was a far-fetched idea already. Perhaps not as insanely unrealistic as Steve Young and Brent Jones buying the 49ers from the York family, but crazy nonetheless. Those in the know felt it was an impossibility, and after today’s report from Jason La Canfora, 49ers fans are forced to accept harsh reality — the nostalgia-rich fever dream that their beloved former owner would someday return triumphantly, to chants of “EDDIE-D … EDDIE-D … EDDIE-D,” will never come true.

Revered former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., a finalist for the Hall of Fame, has been in discussions with Raiders owner Mark Davis about joining his ownership group, according to league sources. Davis and the Raiders are still seeking to bolster the franchise’s front office ahead of a potential move to Los Angeles. While no agreement is close to imminent, and DeBartolo’s interest in returning to the NFL is not limited to Oakland, a pairing with Davis could be another boon for the club’s hopes of moving to Carson, Calif.

Carmen Policy, who worked with DeBartolo for years in San Francisco, is already the director of the Carson stadium project, which is being spearheaded by Davis and Chargers owner Dean Spanos. Davis, who is working to close a deal or deals with other investors, has been actively seeking additional minority partners to come on board, especially those with acumen in projects of this nature, to inject additional capital into his franchise. Finding the right fit with DeBartolo might prove difficult, but he has a strong reputation among other owners and adding him to this group — which also includes Disney CEO Bob Iger, who was named Chairman of Carson Holdings with an option to buy into the Raiders or Chargers in 2018 — would likely only add to the recent momentum of the project.

DeBartolo joining the Raiders front office, given his long ties to their Bay Area rivals in San Francisco, would not be shocking to those privy to the interpersonal dynamics at play between him and the York family, which owns the 49ers now. The opportunity to tap into a potentially very-lucrative LA entertainment market would be very attractive for the former 49ers owner as well.

This doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing that Davis and DeBartolo reach a partnership, but it’s a sure thing that DeBartolo isn’t touching anything in Santa Clara now, or ever. One doesn’t go from flirting with the Raiders to signing up to be a 49ers consigliere, not that DeBartolo ever wanted to be his nephew’s advisor, anyway. If DeBartolo becomes a Raiders minority owner, he’d look to capitalize on wherever they move with complementary investments … and probably figure out a way to gain more and more power within the Raiders organization. Davis may realize this, and look toward other, less bombastic investors in the future. (Update: Tim Kawakami asked Davis about La Canfora’s report before today’s game, and the Raiders owner said “It’s not true.”) But the fact that both parties are open to a discussion shows how little DeBartolo is talking to his sister, her husband, and their son.

DeBartolo has been silent for quite some time, but Policy’s activities over the past year tell us all we need to know. As La Canfora mentioned, Policy has been at the forefront of the efforts to get a stadium in Carson, which presumably would house the Raiders and Chargers. So many have recommended that Jed York seek out an older, wiser voice to steer the 49ers back to respectability and beyond, and many have suggested that York should bring his uncle back into the fold.

That was clearly never going to happen, due to the “interpersonal dynamics” La Canfora cited between DeBartolo and the Yorks. Policy has made it clear that he and the Yorks do not communicate, and he said recently on KNBR that he and DeBartolo never would’ve hired Jim Tomsula to be the team’s head coach. Wherever Policy goes, DeBartolo is usually somewhere in the vicinity, so it’s no surprise that he’s being mentioned as a possible future stakeholder in the Raiders.

Michael Silver wrote a profile on DeBartolo a year and a half ago, and his story answered a couple common questions about a potential DeBartolo return to the NFL.

Wait, doesn’t DeBartolo bleed red and gold?

Not exactly. DeBartolo was a purported 49ers fan in recent years, but his comments to Silver paint the picture of a man who misses the excitement of owning (and profiting from) an NFL team. Any NFL team.

However, DeBartolo has never completely abandoned his dream of running another NFL franchise, and he insists that, should an enticing opportunity present itself, he and some of his similarly wealthy and motivated friends might call an all-out blitz.

“If it was the right team and the right situation — sure, I’d try to get back in,” DeBartolo said Tuesday. “There’s a group of guys that I’ve talked about teaming up with, and we could put something together. I’m enjoying the (post-football) life that I have, but you never know.”

DeBartolo, 67, has made overtures in the past, having formed a group intent on purchasing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when there was talk they might be for sale in the early part of last decade.

In 2006, he mused publicly about joining forces with old friend and former 49ers president Carmen Policy to buy the Oakland Raiders, with the intention of moving them back to Los Angeles.

Two years later, DeBartolo spoke of possibly buying the St. Louis Rams, who ultimately were sold to then-minority owner Stan Kroenke in 2010.

Isn’t he banned from owning a team?

Based on Davis’ interest in working with him and what DeBartolo said to Silver, that isn’t the case.

There is also the matter of whether a DeBartolo ownership bid would gain league approval, given the legal troubles that precipitated his departure from the 49ers. He became embroiled in a Louisiana gaming scandal in 1997, ultimately pleading guilty to a felony charge of failing to report an extortion attempt by former Gov. Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo paid a $1 million fine and was suspended by then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and he later cut a deal with his sister that ceded his share of the team.

In recent years, several current owners, including the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, have told me that they would support a potential DeBartolo return.

“I’ve talked to a lot of owners who’ve told me that,” DeBartolo said. “I still have a lot of friends that would love to have me back in the league. I know that for a fact.

“These rumors that I’m ‘banned’ — not true. I was never banned. I was on probation for a year. Anybody that wants to get (Commissioner) Roger Goodell or (executive vice president/general counsel) Jeff Pash on the phone, they can tell you that.”

However, as 49ers fans who live in the past (which pretty much includes all of them) often do, they let their undying desire to get the band back together blossom into hope that DeBartolo and the Yorks would eventually join forces. This was pushed along by comments from DeBartolo about giving advice to Jed (“he’s taken some of it and not taken some of it”) that sounded closer and more familial than DeBartolo’s icy relationship with Jed’s father, along with DeBartolo’s high-profile appearance as an honorary captain at the last game at Candlestick Park.

However, according to Kawakami, “There was a time Jed York called Eddie D for advice. I’m told that once Levi’s Stadium was in place, that came to an end.”

And how about those Raiders, huh? Once you come to the realization that moving from Oakland to Carson wouldn’t be a tragedy (most Raiders fans stuck with the team when the went to L.A. the first time, NFL games are better on TV anyway, and Southern California isn’t THAT far away), they and the 49ers are traveling at opposite trajectories.

  • The Raiders have a new head coach who knows what he’s doing.
  • They have a young quarterback with the tools to stay in the league — and perhaps even thrive — for 10-plus years.
  • Their owner seems open to any and all ways to improve his team’s fortunes — like working with Policy and DeBartolo — seemingly without his own ego getting in the way.

The 49ers have none of those things, and now young Jed will have to look outside the family to find a wise, experienced mentor … if he even cares to look at all.

Second Update:

Either Davis and DeBartolo didn’t want their discussions made public, or La Canfora ran with an inaccurate report.

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