NEW ORLEANS -- It seems odd the San Francisco 49ers are here and Eddie DeBartolo is not.
DeBartolo, of Youngstown, Ohio, bought and then built the 49ers into such a dynasty that he not only owned them but also seemingly the Vince Lombardi Trophy factory at one point. The 49ers won five of them, the first team to win one for the thumb long after the Steelers failed to live up to their promise to do so.
He also is the only person to have five Super Bowl and one or two Stanley Cup rings (he's not sure if he received a second). His family owned the Penguins during their first championship before selling them in their second championship season.
That fifth football ring came in Super Bowl XXIX, one that seemed destined to pair DeBartolo's 49ers against the Steelers to see which franchise would be the first to five. But, again, the Steelers did not live up to their status as heavy favorites in the AFC championship game, won by San Diego in a stunner.
Dallas tied the 49ers by winning its fifth at the expense of the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. But, of course, the Steelers now stand alone as six-time Super Bowl winners, a category the 49ers are trying to join.
"They have to tie the Steelers," DeBartolo said on the phone Monday morning from his vacation ranch in Montana. "When I lived in Youngstown and we won our Super Bowls in '88 and '89, I used to really catch it from all my Steelers friends. I'm sure they are all talking again. I know there's no love lost for the Ravens in Pittsburgh, but if I were to guess, they'd probably rather not see the 49ers with a sixth."
DeBartolo won't win a sixth either way because he no longer owns them. He swapped the 49ers for holdings in the DeBartolo Corporation with his sister, Denise York, in 2000. Son Jed York is the team's CEO. That transaction occurred when the NFL suspended DeBartolo for one year after he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony in the corruption case of a former Louisiana governor, who demanded $400,000 from DeBartolo for a casino license that was never awarded.
The NFL ultimately cleared DeBartolo to return to the game if he wished, but he hasn't. Instead, he has been quite successful with his business operating out of Tampa under DeBartolo Holdings LLC.
"I was involved -- been there; done that. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. We have a business in Tampa; I get a chance to spend an awful lot of time with my wife, daughters and three grandsons. And you would not truly be able to do that if you were involved in any sport, especially football, which is a 12-month business. I'm too old for that."
Yet, while DeBartolo is not here, he is everywhere. He is among the 15 modern era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and if he makes it in Saturday's vote in New Orleans, the NFL will want him to arrive for Sunday's pregame introduction on the Superdome field.
His 49ers won their fourth Super Bowl (to tie the Steelers) on that field 23 years ago Monday.
He also delivered the NFC championship trophy in a presentation to his sister in Atlanta nine days ago.
"It was emotional," DeBartolo said of that moment. "I had my 9-year-old old grandson with me; he got quite a thrill out of it. We were on the field a couple of hours before the game. It was like old times. There were old friends, a lot of old teammates who played for me. It was great. It felt good; it felt like I was part of something again."
For those reasons, he will stay away from New Orleans for at least most of this week.
"I've made arrangements for some of my family and grandkids to go. I've been there, I've done that, this is their time, this is Jed's time, it's Denise's time. I know Jed worked hard; he got that stadium done, he built this team, he hired Jim Harbaugh, who is a really, really good coach. It's their team and their time.
"I really enjoyed being at the championship game but I may have taken a little bit away from them. A lot of people came up to me because it had been so long. It's probably best they enjoy what they created."
His sister once was president of the Penguins when Edward DeBartolo Sr. owned them between February 1977 and November 1991.
The Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in 1991 and their second in 1992 after DeBartolo sold them to Howard Baldwin et al. that season. Mario Lemieux arrived in Pittsburgh under DeBartolo ownership.
"I remember some of the great days and things we did. The signing of Mario and Paul Coffey, those were great times. I think they were great days in Pittsburgh."
The rings from those days?
"They gave me one or both of them. I think they're in my drawer someplace in Tampa. I don't really wear them."
He has too many. Who can wear six or seven championship rings? He believes the 49ers will add another to their own collection.
"It should be a heck of game. I truly believe the 49ers will win. The Ravens have a great team and are physical but the 49ers have too many great players and weapons."
Just like the old days?
"It's deja vu. They should have been there last year. Things happen. I've gone through lot of things. The Giants gave me a lot of gray hair. They really should have probably beaten them last year.
"This year I thought the championship game would not be close. The Falcons have a good football team. I don't think they're anywhere near as good as San Francisco but they took that 17-point lead and San Francisco had to battle back."
Dan Rooney is the only owner with six Super Bowl rings. If the 49ers win Sunday, Denise York could give her brother a sixth. There is another ring, however, that DeBartolo covets even more: one the Hall of Fame presents to each inductee.
"It would be the greatest honor that I've ever received. Maybe it's easier to say because of some of the success we've had in the past. I think it's every bit more a success than winning a Super Bowl as a personal thing. I'm just honored to be among the group considered."