Eddie DeBartolo The Younger, who hired Bill Walsh and reaped the benefits of the decisions that emanated from it, is now a Hall of Famer.
So is Ken Stabler, the most successful and iconic quarterback Oakland Raiders history, and so is Kevin Greene, the longtime Los Angeles Ram who had a low-fat macchiato to go with the 49ers in 1997, and former 49er assistant coach Dick Stanfel, who made his bones as a player with Detroit and Washington.
Indeed, the 2016 Hall of Fame class was a triumph for people who did their best work on the West Coast. Of the eight inductees, the most possible that could gain entry, fully half spent at least part of their career on the left side of the league diaspora. The other four were slam-dunk selection Brett Favre, Super Bowl winning coach and now NBC screenface Tony Dungy, Indianpolis wide receiver Marvin Harrison and longtime St. Louis Rams tackle standout Orlando Pace.
[MAIOCCO: Ex-49ers owner DeBartolo elected to Hall of Fame]
Indeed, the only West Coast figures not to make it this year out of the 18 finalists was former 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was one of the earliest rejectees, and former San Diego Charger coach Don Coryell.
After a session of 8 hours and 51 minutes, in which 46 people forcefully, furiously and frantically debated the candidacies of 18 men to the point of exhaustiasperation, the result represented the Pacific Time Zone as well as could have been expected.
Stabler is the 16th player to spend the bulk of his career as a Raider, and indeed was the Raiderest of them all in many ways, one of the last great successful quarterbacking rogues of our time. He was a champion with a knowing look in his eyes and a calm when all around him were removing their helmets with the heads still in them.
He was also the least trustworthy of candidates for the modern age –- an eye-of-the-beholder player whose presence was more evident in person than on television or in the screens of Pro Football Reference. As a result, the voters had to go into the room ready to be convinced of something they hadn’t been convinced of in the previous three times he had reached the final day, and they were.
Stabler was always considered the likeliest choice for induction, as he was one of two senior committee finalists (with Stanfel) and whose candidacy gained a bittersweet bump after his death last year of colon cancer at age 69. His career was reassessed during the discussions about after his death, and by voting day few of the selectors could come up with overwhelming reasons to keep him out. Though the actual voting totals are never released, those inside the room sensed little resistance to the presentation on his behalf or the discussion that followed.
[BAIR: Raiders' Stabler elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame]
DeBartolo, on the other hand, was the subject of a 50-minute discussion, much of which was dominated a full presentation and three unscheduled ones. He had been considered a “bubble” candidate by many selectors, one whose induction could have gone either way, but in the end those in the room felt as though there wasn’t enough evident resistance to him to create the 10 voters needed for exclusion. He is now the 22nd member of the Contributors’ wing that includes 13 other owners, and the second from west of the Rockies (with Al Davis, one of his closest allies in their years together).
DeBartolo ran the 49ers for 24 years before losing the team to his sister Denise in the wake of his involvement in the New Orleans casino scandal that saw him convicted of failing to report a bribe. Much of his career was spent not only thriving in the pre-salary cap era but ultimately forcing upon his successors across the league. He was noted for lavish spending on the acquisitions and creature comforts of his players, and he, Walsh and handy go-betweens Carmen Policy and John McVay formed one of the most idiosyncratic but ultimately cohesive front offices in modern league history.
Owens, on the other hand, was eliminated early, before the 18 candidates were reduced to 10, and much of the debate that got him excised hung on the fact that he was traded from three teams at the peak of his career because the front offices and coaches found him too wearying a distraction. His numbers and one Super Bowl appearance with Philadelphia worked in his favor, but ultimately the bulk of the room found that less convincing than his disruptive nature.
His inclusion is a debate topic that come up repeatedly in the years to come, but for the most part, the West did well in a year when the game is here and the newest team is a mere 400 miles to the south.