(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Eddie DeBartolo interview log on to the following audio attachment: Ep 21: Former 49ers Owner and Pro Football HOFer, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Joins the Show | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
The San Francisco 49ers were the most dominant team of the 1980s, winning four Super Bowls in an era when the NFC won eight of ten. Yet only two offensive starters from those 1980s’ teams – quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice – are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That makes no sense.
So when former 49ers’ owner and Hall-of-Famer Eddie DeBartolo Jr. joined the “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, we brought it up. And then we went farther -- asking him to choose one 49ers’ player from those Super Bowl teams he’d next send to Canton.
“Only one?” he asked.
That’s the question. DeBartolo thought for a moment before answering.
“Roger Craig,” he said.
“He basically changed football back then,” he said, referring to Craig’s eight-year career with San Francisco in the 1980s. “He was the first back to run and catch for 1,000 yards. He had great hands. He probably has hands that are as good as some of these receivers that are playing nowadays. I think only a few players did what he did.
"He gave it his all. He was just a great, great team player. And he’s a great man. I think what he did ... his accomplishments, as he played for us …(make him Hall-of-Fame worthy). And he did play for good teams and had good players around him. But he was just as good as those players.”
Craig is such an attractive candidate that he was named as one of 20 finalists for the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020. That’s the good news. The bad is that he wasn’t chosen, returned to a senior pile so overloaded with Hall-of-Fame-caliber candidates that 58 all-decade players reside there.
Craig is one of them, and it’s a mystery why he doesn’t gain more traction with the Hall’s board of selectors. As DeBartolo mentioned, he was the first back to produce 1,000 yards rushing and another 1,000 yards receiving in the same season – a feat achieved by only Marshall Faulk and Christian McCaffrey since.
And Faulk was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Faulk also played for one Super Bowl champion. Craig played for three. Faulk was strictly a running back. Craig played fullback and running back. In 12 playoff games with St. Louis, Faulk averaged 3.6 yards a carry with eight TDs. In 16 playoff games with the 49ers, Craig averaged 4.0 yards per carry, with nine scores -- including a then-record three in Super Bowl XVI. In their regular-season careers, Faulk averaged 5.31 yards per touch; Craig averaged 5.12.
Critics counter that, OK, that’s fine. But Faulk was an NFL MVP, three-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and six-time All-Pro where Craig was named to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. Plus, Faulk had nearly twice as many TDs (136) as Craig (73).And all of that is true. But Faulk was elected to Canton on his first try. Craig not only hasn’t been elected; he was a modern-era finalist just once (2010) in 20 years of eligibility.
Furthermore, the Hall just elected Drew Pearson to Canton, and he was named to three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He also played on one Super Bowl champion. That’s not to knock Pearson. He’s Hall-of-Fame worthy and deserved consideration … and inclusion … years ago.
But so does Roger Craig.
“This isn’t to degrade anybody,” said DeBartolo, “but it seems as though a lot of the voters lean toward the Steelers, the Cowboys … and maybe I’m wrong … the Packers. And that’s probably not a fair thing to say. But who knows? Everybody has their own mind and can make their own decisions. I’m sure there are many people who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”
There are. But voters lean toward teams like the Steelers, Cowboys and Packers because they were dynasty franchises with Hall-of-Fame worthy stars. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years in the 1960s. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s. And from 1969-1981, the Cowboys appeared in 10 NFC championship games and four Super Bowls, two of which they won. They also had a streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-85), with 10 or more victories 16 times.
But there was no more dominant franchise in the 1980s than San Francisco, and there were few players as important to the 49ers’ success as Roger Craig. DeBartolo should know.
“Life is funny,” he said. “The whole world is changed. Roger is a good man, and I think his talents … and what he did on the field … make him worthy of the Hall of Fame.”