Eddie De Bartolo/Tony Morabito/Charles Haley; Roger Goodell; Candlestick Problems; Cal Recruiting; Chris Carter
HALL OF FAME: Some San Francisco writers were offended that former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo did not get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last Saturday. I was offended, too. I didn’t think he even belonged on the ballot.
Eddie was on the ballot because he is the only owner whose team won five Super Bowls but in truth, he was often more of a hindrance than a help.
The one truly positive move he made was to hire Bill Walsh, but that was a desperation move because he’d first hired Joe Thomas, who did a terrific job of wrecking the franchise. And why did Eddie hire Walsh? Eddie and I do not have a warm and fuzzy relationship but at those times when we’ve been talking, he’s admitted that he hadn’t even heard of Walsh before I started pushing the then Stanford coach for the 49ers job.
For the first two years, Eddie left Walsh alone but, when Walsh took the 49ers to their first Super Bowl win, Eddie expected the team to win every year. He made Walsh’s life miserable every time the 49ers lost a game. I can’t tell you how many times Walsh told me, “Well, I got ‘fired’ again last Sunday.” When Eddie sobered up, he forgot about the “firings”.
Eddie’s money? In the first place, it wasn’t his, it was his dad’s, and he never minded spending it. Even so, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl with a team salary in the bottom tier. They were only in the league middle for the second Super Bowl season but after that season, Eddie invited his two favorite players, Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, to Youngstown and gave them big salary boosts. When other players heard about that, they lined up at Walsh’s door demanding raises. Ronnie Lott, probably the second-most important player on the roster, headed the line. The 49ers team salaries jumped to the top of the league’s list and stayed there.
The DeBartolo money became important for the next two 49ers champions, because they could pay starters money to backups who could have started for other teams. That forced the other owners to bargain seriously with the players to get an agreement in place which had a salary cap. But the fifth 49ers champion, put together by Carmen Policy and coached by George Seifert, won in the salary cap days, so the DeBartolo money wasn’t a factor.
And then, Eddie got thrown out of the league because he was a peripheral figure in a Louisiana gambling scandal. Yeah, just the kind of guy the Hall of Fame wants.
Eddie is in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, though a much more deserving 49ers owner, the original one, Tony Morabito, is not. Tony spent his own money on what seemed to be an iffy proposition, a team in the newly formed All America Conference. Even when the 49ers were taken into the NFL, it wasn’t until the ‘70s, long after Tony’s death in 1957, that they really became a going concern financially.
I never knew Tony Morabito, who died before I had even seen a 49ers game, but when I talked to players of that era – along with Lou Spadia – for my 1995 history book on the team, they spoke very fondly about him, and not because he overpaid them, as Eddie did. They had a genuine affection for him and told some touching stories. One of them: When a player admired Morabito’s coat after a practice, he took it off and gave it to him. “I can get another,” he said.
The problem for Tony Morabito’s candidacy is that none of the current voters knew him. So, he’s never had a chance.
CHARLES HALEY also failed to be elected, though he was an outstanding pass rusher for both the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. I suspect the HOF voting system is a part of the problem.
The HOF panel is a small one, with voters from cities with teams. It was once confined to writers but now includes some broadcasters as well. Representatives from the city where a player played are responsible for advocating his election. But sometimes, a voter who is responsible for pushing a player from his area has seen very little of him if the player has moved on.
Bob Brown is probably the best example of that. Brown was a superb offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders. His best years were with the Eagles but the Philadelphia writer who was voting had not seen him play in those years. Ira Miller, a good friend from our years together on The Chronicle, was a longtime voting member and very respected. He asked me what I thought of Brown. Though Brown had come to the Raiders at the end of his career and, though I’d watched a Raiders line in the ‘70s with Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, I told Ira I thought Brown was the best offensive linemen I’d seen. So, Ira pushed for Brown and he finally got in.
NFL TESTING: I’ve been unfair to the NFL in blasting it for not getting serious about drug testing. Actually, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell noted in his “State of the NFL” speech to the media, the last contract with the Players Association included a provision to use blood tests to detect the use of Human Growth Hormones, the main source of the unusual physical improvements to NFL bodies. It has been the players who have resisted it.
I can understand where the players are coming from. As I’ve written many times, players are always looking for an edge. Their idea of thinking long term is wondering what will happen next week. Right now, they’re seeing that using HGH, with the ability to work longer and harder in the weight room, means stronger and faster bodies. What they don’t realize is that, with so many players on these drugs, there’s no real competitive advantage but there is real danger to their bodies and heads because of the more fearsome collisions. The Players Association leadership needs to stress this – and it wouldn’t hurt to remind them of all the lawsuits brought by former players on concussion issues – and get them to accept the additional testing.
With testing for HGH, football bodies can be reduced to closer to normal size and the collisions and subsequent injuries, including concussions can be reduced. That’s the only way football can be saved. On its current path, the sport is doomed.
KQED FORUM: I’ve assumed KQED listeners would be more intellectual than the idiots who call in to KNBR sports talk shows but that wasn’t true when I was on Monday morning with Mark Purdy of The San Jose Mercury. One caller said the player who caused an illegal formation penalty in the opening 49ers series should have apologized to his teammates in the dressing room after the game. Oh, my, are we back in high school? Another called Joe Flacco’s third down pass to Anquan Boldin a “Hail Mary.” In fact, it was a perfect pass because Flacco knew that Boldin could go up for it and make the catch. Bolding has specialized in that during his career and, in fact, made some like that against the 49ers when he was with the Arizona Cardinals.
STOP THE WHINING about the final 49ers play of the Super Bowl: The no call of no pass interference was the best possible call. There was shoving by both Michael Crabtree and the DB on the play and the pass was overthrown, so Crabtree probably would have been out of bounds if he’d caught it. Best of all, officials did not want to decide a Super Bowl with a marginal call. Forty-Niner fans should agree with that. In the NFC Championship game following the 1983 season, an official decided the game with a pass interference call on Eric Wright, though the receiver, Art Monk, would have had to be 12-feet tall to catch the ball. So, the Niners had to wait another season for their second Super Bowl win.
SUPER BOWL MEMORIES: In another radio interview, this one with the ESPN station in New York, the interviewer asked me which of the 49ers Super Bowls was the most memorable for me. I told him the 1990 game in New Orleans because my wife and I had such a good time in New Orleans. That wasn’t the answer he was expecting, of course, so I added that the 1989 game in Miami, which the 49ers won with a drive in the final three minutes, was the most exciting.
I had another reason to be deeply involved in that game: Bill Walsh and I had been talking about doing a book on his career – he was the one who brought up the subject – and I could see hopes for that book disappearing if the Niners lost. Walsh was an emotional wreck that year and the book was postponed a year but we finally did it, “Building a Champion” in 1990.
CANDLESTICK PARK will cease to exist when the 49ers move into their new stadium in Santa Clara in 2014 because the current stadium will be torn down to make room for a shopping center. I have a lot of memories because it’s where I saw my first baseball All-Star game in 1961 and my first World Series in 1962, both when I was still working for The Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. But, I won’t miss it. The park has always had its problems.
For baseball, the problem was the wind. Willie McCovey once complained about the wind blowing peanut shells into his eyes and I could sympathize with that. In the mid-‘90s, before a night game against the Cardinals, I was walking from the dressing room, down the right field line when a gust of wind blew sand into my eyes and under my contact lens. After I got them cleaned off, I went home, vowing never again to go to a night game at the ‘Stick. I kept that promise.
For football, played at a time of year when the wind isn’t as much of a problem, access to the stadium has always been a problem. It can take forever to get from the freeway to the parking lots around the stadium. And if it rains, the parking lots are quickly flooded.
Despite all these problems, the 49ers have tried to stay at Candlestick Point. Carmen Policy put together a stadium proposal in 1997 and got a bond issue passed, narrowly, that made it possible to call it public/private financing and get a “loan” from the league. Since the loan would have been repaid out of the visitor’s share of gate receipts, it would have been a gift.
It was an ambitious plan which included a retail component that would have everything from bargain stores to Neiman Marcus, but it was abandoned when Policy left after he got a sweetheart deal to become a minority partner in the Cleveland Browns. Perhaps it was just as well because it was never clear where the 49ers would have played while the new stadium was being built. Stanford hosted the 1985 Super Bowl and one 49ers game after the 1989 earthquake but their tax status would have been seriously compromised by regular scheduling. Cal had hosted a Raiders-Miami game in 1974 but got such an adverse reaction from area residents that the then Cal athletic director Dave Maggard promised that there would be no more pro games. The Giants new park was soon to open but, though it has a bowl game and had Cal football for one season while Memorial Stadium was being renovated and upgraded, it is woefully inadequate for football.
When John York took over the 94ers, he commissioned studies for a new stadium. The recommendation again was that the new stadium be built at the current location. But when York tried to contact San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, his phone calls were not returned. I’m sure that Newsom knew the city couldn’t offer any financial help but he didn’t want to be put on record saying that. So, when Jed York took over the club, the emphasis shifted to Santa Clara.
There are San Franciscans who are enraged by this decision, including former mayor and current U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, but the reality is that the 49ers haven’t been a San Francisco team for a long time. San Francisco has changed greatly since I first came there in 1963, with an influx of people from other countries who care nothing about American sports, while many long-time fans have moved from San Francisco to the peninsula. For those fans, the Santa Clara stadium will be probably easier to get to than Candlestick. It will be for fans to the east, too. There is a considerable contingent of Sacramento fans who can take Amtrak if they choose.
San Francisco will benefit, too, because there will soon be a Super Bowl at Santa Clara and there was never going to be one at Candlestick. I suspect the big spenders will stay in San Francisco during the week and go in limousines to the game, so San Francisco hotels and restaurants will get business they don’t usually have from visitors. San Francisco does a tremendous amount of tourist business but lnot in January and February.
And, when San Franciscans see the ticket prices for the new stadium, they’ll probably be happy to stay home and watch the games on TV.
THE CURRENT Cal recruiting class is rated No. 27 in the country by Rivals.com. The top Pac-12 school is USC, rated No. 6 though NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to 12 selections.
So, what else is new? Jeff Tedford’s downfall was largely due to the fact that conditions at Berkeley prevented him from competing on anything approaching an equal basis in recruiting. New coach Sonny Dykes doesn’t have the obnoxious tree sitters to deal with and the Cal facilities are up-to-date now – at least in part because Tedford constantly pushed for them – but there is one element which has not changed: USC is a “two-track” school. If athletes want a good education, they can certainly get it. If they don’t, there are plenty of classes which won’t challenge them academically, so they can save their best efforts for the gridiron. Cal doesn’t have those kinds of courses, so athletes get a real education.
As a Cal alum, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m also realistic enough to know that there’s no way Cal can be a consistent football power. Younger alums don’t seem to understand that, because they don’t look at the school’s football history.
One thing that is interesting about the current Cal recruiting class: Marin Catholic quarterback Jared Goff is already in school. If Tedford had stayed, he’d undoubtedly have redshirted, as Zach Kline did in a similar situation last fall, to give him time to learn a complex system. But Dykes is running a spread offense which is very similar to what Goff ran in high school, so he may be able to compete for the starting role. Though Allan Bridgeford has the most experience, he didn’t show much when he played last season and I’d be surprised if he started this fall. Sophomore Kyle Boehm and junior Austin Hinder are also in the mix. Both were highly regarded when they were recruited but, since they’ve never gotten off the practice field, it’s difficult to assess their chances.
THE NUMBERS game forced the A’s to trade Chris Carter because there will be several candidates for the DH role which best suited Carter. In addition, Jed Lowrie will give them good depth behind new shortstop Hiro Nakajima and may even become the starting second baseman if Jamile Weeks can’t return to the kind of player he was in 2011.
I suspect that Carter has been on the trade block for some time. He has power but he’s what baseball people call a mistakes hitter. If a pitcher makes a bad pitch, Carter can hit it a long way, but most of the time, pitchers have little trouble in getting him out, which is why his average has been in the low .200s and will stay there.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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