Robert Kraft modeled the Patriots after Eddie DeBartolo's 49ers

Robert Kraft modeled the Patriots after Eddie DeBartolo's 49ers

When Robert Kraft took ownership of the New England Patriots in 1994, he had a distinct vision for his franchise.

“I wanted people to view us and look at us the way people looked at the 49ers,” Kraft told CSNBayArea.com during an interview this week.

More than two decades later, Kraft’s Patriots are the equivalent of the 49ers in the 1980s and ‘90s under Eddie DeBartolo.

The 49ers won each of their five Super Bowl appearances under DeBartolo’s ownership. During Kraft’s time in charge, the Patriots have won four of their seven Super Bowl showings, including four of six with coach Bill Belichick.

The 49ers will pay tribute to DeBartolo during alumni weekend, culminating at Sunday’s game against the Patriots with the presentation of the Ring of Excellence for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this year.

Kraft was a successful businessman who began his career at Rand-Whitney Group, a company that converted paper into packaging for various industries, before taking ownership in 1972. He also founded International Forest Products, a trader of paper commodities.

He might have known how to run a business on paper, but Kraft was the first to admit he had to acquire a better understanding of the inner workings of professional football. Almost immediately, he sought assistance from DeBartolo and his 49ers team president, Carmen Policy.

“I went to my first owners meeting and I met with them and they very gracious and kind,” Kraft said. “Probably the main lesson I learned from that – 20-odd years later – is I always try to be very welcoming and kind to new owners coming in. Because I know it’s a very exciting opportunity and adventure to come into the league. It’s a great privilege.”

Shortly thereafter, Kraft and his son, Jonathan, the team president, visited with DeBartolo and Policy at the 49ers’ team headquarters in the Bay Area.

“They spent quite a long time in San Francisco, in Santa Clara,” DeBartolo said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “We hid nothing. We showed them what we did, how we did it. We did the same thing with (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones.”

Kraft said he recalls he reached out to other NFL owners during that time, too.

“And I must tell you,” Kraft said, “not every one was welcoming to me, but Eddie was.

“I don’t think anyone could’ve been more hospitable than Eddie was with the 49ers, and it was at the height of their achievements.”

DeBartolo said he felt it was an obligation to help others in his position as a member of such a select group at the top of the nation’s most popular sport.

“It’s the right thing to do,” DeBartolo said. “They are your partners. I know it’s very competitive. But you know what? Then you have to be one step ahead of everybody and you have to continue to forge on.

“I had no qualms about having fellow owners come out and see how we operate.”

Kraft recalls he visited with the 49ers at a time when the NFL was implementing a salary cap.

“The management expertise required to be successful in the NFL changed at that time,” Kraft said.

He also took notice of the bond DeBartolo had with his employees, especially the players.

“I did see the relationship he had with his players and how they all felt a connection and a sense of warmth to him,” Kraft said. “I’ve tried to do the same thing. First of all, I love being in the locker room. And I love our players. I think seeing Eddie interact and the way his players felt about him was a wonderful example.”

DeBartolo’s ownership reign with the 49ers came to an end in 1997. He stepped away during an investigation into gambling fraud involving ex-Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. DeBartolo eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of failing to report the former governor’s extortion attempt.

During his induction speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, DeBartolo said, “The turning point, of course, is when God blessed me with the good judgment to hire a gentleman by the name of Bill Walsh.”

Walsh’s franchise-changing decision was to pick quarterback Joe Montana in the third round of the 1979 draft.

Likewise, Kraft’s monumental hiring of Belichick in 2000 – and Belichick’s subsequent selection of quarterback Tom Brady with a compensatory pick in the sixth round of his first draft with the Patriots – helped turn New England into an annual Super Bowl contender.

Kraft said it will be a “thrill” for him to see DeBartolo honored Sunday at Levi’s Stadium as a member of the Hall of Fame.

“I think he’s most deserving,” Kraft said. “His enthusiasm and upbeat manner and wonderful way he is with all people, I’ve never seen him when he’s not upbeat and treating people very well. He’s a lot of fun to be around.

“I believe ownership has the ability to mess up some good things. Eddie did a great of enhancing what he had, and I’m trying to do the same thing here.”

Terrell Owens selects former 49ers coach as his Hall of Fame presenter


Terrell Owens selects former 49ers coach as his Hall of Fame presenter

Terrell Owens has selected former 49ers special teams and wide receivers coach George Stewart as his presenter into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“He knew what to get out of me,” Owens told the Hall of Fame.

“He knows who I am. To know who Terrell Owens is, you have to spend some time with him. . . George Stewart became a father figure to me.”

Owens was elected into the Hall of Fame in February. He will enter the Hall of Fame in a class that also includes wide receiver Randy Moss, linebackers Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Robert Brazile, safety Brian Dawkins, guard Jerry Kramer, and contributor Bobby Beathard.

Owens played special teams under Stewart’s direction as a rookie after coming to the 49ers in 1996.

From 2000 to ’02, Stewart worked as the 49ers’ wide receivers coach. Owens was selected to three consecutive All-Pro teams and Pro Bowls during that time. Owens ranks No. 2 all time behind Jerry Rice with 15,934 receiving yards. He is third all-time with 153 receiving touchdowns.

Stewart is set to enter his 30th NFL season as an assistant coach and his second as special-teams coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Class of 2018 will be enshrined inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Sherman makes his concern over Reid's free-agency status loud and clear


Sherman makes his concern over Reid's free-agency status loud and clear

Safety Eric Reid, who has 69 career starts and one Pro Bowl appearance in his five-year NFL career, remains available on the open market more than a week after the opening of free agency.

Reid has received no reported interest from NFL teams in what has been an unusually soft market for free-agent safeties. But, with Reid, there is another variable that could be playing a factor.

Reid was at the forefront of the social activism that has been a major storyline in the NFL since the beginning of the 2016 season. Reid and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in protest of racial inequality in America.

Reid has remained outspoken and has taken a knee as a way to “make people uncomfortable about the issues.” Reid has been clear his protest has nothing to do with the flag or the anthem.

“The anthem is just a vehicle to get us to have those conversations,” Reid told NBC Sports Bay Area last season. “It’s the platform we have. It’s the only time we have to get the eyeballs on us to do that. If we just did locker-room talks afterward, nobody would even know. Strategically, this is the only way we thought we could do it.”

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who signed a three-year contract with the 49ers on March 10, had been the Seattle Seahawks’ player representative. He is a vice president of the NFL Players Association. Reid was the 49ers’ union representative.

Sherman said he is keeping a close eye on Reid’s situation.

“We are concerned, because he played at a high level for just about every year that he’s played in this league,” Sherman said on Tuesday. “He’s made enough plays to be signed with a team and to make his money. He deserves his money. Safeties make a certain amount. I would think he’s top-five, top-10 safeties in this league, so he deserves to be paid accordingly.

“So there is concern there, because you would think a player of his caliber and his quality would be picked up by now. I think great teams are still looking and people are still looking for players. I’m praying that he gets picked up. But if he doesn’t, then I think there will be a conversation with the league office and the union on potential league action.”

Kaepernick never got so much as an opportunity to compete for an NFL roster spot during training camp last season. Could Reid, 26, be heading for the same fate?

Reid addressed the issue last week on social media:

“The notion that I can be a great signing for your team for cheap, not because of my skill set but because I’ve protested systemic oppression, is ludicrous. If you think is, then your mindset is part of the problem too.”

The 49ers have not placed a priority on re-signing Reid. The club already has potential starting safeties Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert under contract for the upcoming season.

Reid, whom the 49ers traded up to select with the No. 18 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has 10 career interceptions. He appeared to thrive last season in run support as a safety who played closer to the line of scrimmage.