(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Eddie DeBartolo interview, log on the attached audio: Ep 21: Former 49ers Owner and Pro Football HOFer, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Joins the Show | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)You gotta love Eddie DeBartolo.
OK, if you’re a 49ers’ fan, you gotta love him. The team’s former owner, he hired Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Walsh, assembled a front office that built a dynasty and delivered five Lombardi Trophies to San Francisco between 1981 and 1994 – including four in a span of nine seasons.
But DeBartolo was as demanding as he was successful. He expected to win, and he wasn’t afraid to say so.
So it should come as no surprise that when DeBartolo, now living in Tampa, was asked Tuesday how one of his Super Bowl teams – OK, the 1989 49ers – would do vs. this season’s Super Bowl competitors, the Tampa Bay Bucs and Kansas City Chiefs, he didn’t blink.
“I think we’d have kicked their ass,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com. “Both of them. Because it was just a great, great team.”
Fans new to the sport may roll their eyes, but you know something? He’s right. It was a great, great team.
The ’89 49ers were loaded. On offense, they had Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig, Brent Jones, Tom Rathman, and a marvelous line. Their defense featured Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Bill Romanowski, Pierce Holt and Don Griffin. They ranked first in total offense, third in total defense and were so dominant that they finished 17-2 — outscoring their playoff opponents, 126-26.
Best of all, they saved the best for last: A 55-10 blowout in Super Bowl XXIV of Denver, Hall-of-Fame quarterback John Elway and the NFL’s top-scoring defense. It was the most lopsided score in the game’s history, and it happened with a first-year head coach, George Seifert.
“They were they were a team on a mission,” said former Hall-of-Fame voter Ira Miller, who covered the 49ers for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Players wanted to prove it wasn’t all Bill Walsh. And they proved it.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: It was a different game then, and you’re right. Quarterbacks weren’t protected as they are today, and receivers crossed the middle of the field at their own risk. There were no flags for helmet-to-helmet hits. Quarterbacks weren’t encased in bubble wrap. And defenses were allowed to play … well, defense.
But you’re probably thinking there was no quarterback with the talent of a Patrick Mahomes or the success of a Tom Brady. Except there was. There was Montana, who won all four Super Bowls he started, threw for 11 TDs and no interceptions, and was the platinum bar against whom all others were compared.
Until Brady came along.
But wait a minute. Rewind the videotape to Montana’s 1989 season. It was so bullet-proof that Cold Hard Football Facts called it “the one by which we must measure all passing seasons.” He set a then-NFL record for passer rating at 112.4, with a completion percentage of 70.2, 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Nice, huh? It got better when he moved to the playoffs. He won all three starts, completed 78.3 percent of his passes, threw for 800 yards, 11 TDs and no interceptions, and produced a rating of 146.4.
No ordinary Joe, indeed.
No question, Brady is extraordinary. He’s won as many Super Bowls (6) as Montana (4) and Elway (2) combined and has twice as many playoff victories (33) as Montana, who is second all-time with 16. And Mahomes is so talented he may be the next Brady waiting to happen … who knows? Yet when DeBartolo says he’d take his ’89 49ers over this year’s Bucs and Chiefs, I suggest no one clear their throats.
Because the cold, hard facts speak for themselves.
“I tell you something,” he said, “player-for-player, I think we would have given them all they wanted.”