Back home in the Valley

DeBartolo emotional about return to Cardinal Mooney

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., left, is greeted by Cardinal Mooney High School athletic director Don Bucci Wednesday at the school. DeBartolo, a 1964 graduate of Mooney, was honored for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.

YOUNGSTOWN — Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. took a quick look around the Cardinal Mooney High School gymnasium.

He was wearing his tan suit jacket, emblazoned with the Pro Football Hall of Fame logo. That is designated for those few people who have been immortalized in the hallowed halls in Canton — the mecca of the sport.

As emotional as it was that early August night when he was inducted in the Hall of Fame Class of 2016, Wednesday was another glorious day in the life of the former San Francisco 49ers owner.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Ford Motor Company sponsored the Hometown Hall of Famer program, which brought DeBartolo back home to Youngstown.

The 1964 Cardinal Mooney graduate was the 107th hall of famer to receive a bronze plaque with his bust atop and wording below. His plaque tells of his 49ers team winning five Super Bowl titles from 1982 to 1995.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo The plaque placed at Cardinal Mooney to honor Edward J. Debartolo Jr.

“I told (Pro Football Hall of Fame president) David Baker every since I heard about this, it’s been kind of eating at me,” DeBartolo said. “I was more nervous doing this than Canton. Even though I changed my speech in Canton, I thought I had it down pretty well. Coming back here and talking to the kids, being honored at a school that meant so much to me.

“I was joking about a few things.”

In all seriousness, DeBartolo is more than a football owner. He’s a friend.

Rich Burnett of Struthers, who graduated with DeBartolo in 1964 from Mooney, recalls the friend he knew from his freshman year.

Burnett even recalls DeBartolo hosting his class’s 50th reunion and having singer Paul Anka, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony, performing for his classmates.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. speaks Wednesday at the event honoring him for being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Eddie was a like a regular kid,” Burnett said. “He hung around with everybody. He never said a bad thing about anybody.”

DeBartolo is part of the Mahoning Valley.

Cardinal Mooney football coach PJ Fecko remembers going to school at St. Charles in Boardman, and later to high school, with DeBartolo’s youngest daughter, Nicole.

Fecko remembers the excitement of the NFL and how the 49ers were engrained in the area.

He recalls players like Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Russ Francis visiting Youngstown, but mostly the one who made all of it possible, DeBartolo.

“He cherishes his time he’s in Youngstown. It’s special to see someone who is like that,” Fecko said.

DeBartolo is a brother.

He and his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, gave a sizable donation to Cardinal Mooney’s $5 million renovation project. Denise and her husband, Dr. John York, took over the 49ers ownership in 2000 and are co-chairs of the San Francisco team. Their son, Jed, Eddie Jr.’s nephew, is the 49ers CEO.

“What we’ve done will ensure it (Mooney High School) will go into the future and keep educating children from the area,” Denise, a 1968 Cardinal Mooney graduate, said.

Youngstown State football coach and Cardinal Mooney graduate Bo Pelini recalls his three seasons (1994-96) as defensive backs coach with the 49ers.

He knows why that franchise was always successful under DeBartolo.

“He always put everybody else before himself,” Pelini said. “That’s what made him special. He was interested in one thing, that was winning and winning the right way.”

Former longtime Cardinal Mooney football coach and current athletic director Don Bucci knew DeBartolo’s father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr.

It was that gift of giving that Eddie Jr. was so famous for as the 49ers owner that Bucci saw first in the father.

“His father was a good friend of mine and was responsible for me attending the University of Notre Dame,” Bucci said.

Bucci and former Mooney assistant Ron Stoops, who is now on YSU’s staff, were flown to San Francisco in 1982 to meet then-49ers coach Bill Walsh on DeBartolo’s dime.

In all, Eddie Jr. is a special man to the Mooney community.

“The support he gave to Mooney over the years, not only to the school, but to the athletic program,” Bucci said. “Those are great memories I have of him.”

Reliving this summer’s Hall of Fame induction was something special, Denise can remember.

“It was probably the most emotional time I can remember ever having, so long overdue,” she said. “It was so moving. He changed the game of football. The relationships with its players, with the family atmosphere. It was a wonderful thing.”

So were those five Super Bowl championships and the dominance San Francisco had in the 1980s and part of the 1990s.

“It was unbelievable. I want it back. I want it back,” Denise said.