Spander: Reunion reminds fans of Niners’ glory days

The talk was about what used to be.

“Those were the days,” ex-mayor Willie Brown affirmed.

The talk was about what might be again.

Eddie DeBartolo had come back to his adopted home, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame which bears the name of his father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr.

He had come back to reminisce, to laugh and, even for a brief emotional moment, to cry.

He had come back for a reconciliation which could only mean good things for the 49ers, the team which won five Super Bowls when they were owned by Eddie, the team which talks about winning Super Bowls now that they are run by Eddie’s nephew, Jed York.

Let’s address the issue. The 49ers were champions because of Bill Walsh, a visionary who coached and managed them out of the darkness. And it was terrific to see Bill’s widow, Geri, among the many at the Sheraton Palace for the DeBartolo presentation.

But without Eddie, there’s no Walsh. Without Eddie, there are no resources. DeBartolo, Walsh and John McVay all had a hand in the success, along with Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and so many others.

“We weren’t supposed to lose,” Steve Young said. “Eddie would say, ‘You tell me what you need to be great,’  but in return you’d better be great.”

Young, Lott and Jerry Rice offered an unintentional comedy routine during their time on stage. Rice made everyone aware of Young’s expanding bald spot. Young responded, “You wouldn’t say five words, but ever since ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ you won’t stop talking.”

Yes, John York was there. In the same room with Eddie. The new owner and his brother-in-law the old owner, two people we were told who didn’t get along, two people who had different ideas on how to run a pro football team.

But now John’s son, Jed, is in charge. And he was thanking his uncle, Eddie, for providing advice, apparently last year on when to get rid of Mike Nolan as head coach and bring in Mike Singletary. The family is together once more.

“We were always together,” said Denise DeBartolo York, John’s wife and Eddie’s sister.

She was distressed by what a certain columnist through the years had written to the contrary.

The idea, expressed more than once, by everyone from Willie Brown to Rice, is to get Eddie D into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That may not be terribly easy, even if DeBartolo is deserving. Some voters will be hesitant because he was stripped of the Niners after illegally trying to obtain a casino license in Louisiana.

But this is a start. Just as the Yorks and DeBartolos showing unity is a start of a process to regain the Niners’ old glory.

“Eddie changed the world of sports for the better,” said Brown.

At least as far as Northern California is concerned.

Paul Anka, the singer and composer, the man who wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra, was a guest, bringing revised lyrics for DeBartolo, a long-time pal.

“Your football star,” sang Anka to Eddie, “you raised the bar, and did it your way.”

A way the Niners, very much in the family, would love to find once more.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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