CANTON, Ohio — Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is the only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2016 who did not play in the NFL. He also wants everybody to know something else about him.
“I have a confession to make: I could be the only inductee of this great Hall who didn’t make his high school football team,” DeBartolo said.
“To share this stage with these amazing gentlemen behind me is more than humbling. We all may be wearing the same jackets, but they have shoes that I could never, ever fill.”
DeBartolo played an instrumental role in turning the San Francisco 49ers from being one of the worst teams to one of the best teams on a regular basis. He hired Bill Walsh as coach and drafted Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The 49ers won five Super Bowls with DeBartolo as owner, who also had players such as Steve Young and safety Ronnie Lott. The 49ers won an average of 13 games from 1981 to 1998.
DeBartolo was one of eight members of the 2016 class honored during Saturday night’s Hall of Fame ceremony. He was inducted along with receiver Marvin Harrison, coach Tony Dungy, quarterback Brett Favre, linebacker Kevin Greene, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, quarterback Ken Stabler and offensive guard Dick Stanfel.
Stabler and Stanfel were enshrined posthumously.
“I’m standing here as a member of the Class of 2016, and no doubt it’s a great individual honor. No doubt it is,” Greene said. “But I must be honest, I am standing on the shoulders of many, many players, many coaches, many people.”
Greene recorded at least 10 sacks in 10 of his 15 seasons, including at least 14 sacks five times. He was named to the Pro Bowl five times — twice each with Pittsburgh and Carolina and once with the Rams.
Harrison spent his entire 13-year career with the Indianapolis Colts, with whom he compiled 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. Harrison’s single-season receptions record of 143, set in 2002, still stands today.
Harrison spoke of his gratitude to those who supported him throughout his career.
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“The fans is what makes this game possible,” Harrison said. “I say this from the bottom of my heart. No offense, Green Bay, I had the best fans in the game.
“I’m from Philadelphia, the home of the Eagles,” he added. “If you get the coin toss wrong in Philadelphia, they want to trade you the first thing Monday morning. So I wasn’t used to that in Indianapolis. So we had the best fans.”
He’s equally grateful for the Hall of Fame executive who led the Colts throughout Harrison’s career.
“Bill Polian, 15, 16, 17 years ago, we crossed paths in the locker room, and Bill Polian said, ‘What’s up, Hall of Famer?’ and I’m like, ‘What is this guy talking about?'” Harrison said. “I’m in my sixth, seventh year and he’s talking about Hall of Fame. That just goes to show you why he’s up here today [as a Hall of Famer] as part of this elite group. He can pick out talent a mile away.”
In terms of talent, Harrison spent much of his career paired with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
“Peyton, I want to say that you came into the league in your first year and I was happy to be a part of that,” Harrison said. “And I saw the work ethic that you had, and we carried that on for quite a few more years. So I want to thank you, too, Peyton.”
Like Harrison, Pace played 13 years in the NFL, 12 with the Rams and one with the Chicago Bears. The Rams had seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons with Pace, who was selected to the Pro Bowl for seven straight seasons from 2000 to 2006. Pace and the Rams won Super Bowl XXXVI.
“My dream started when I was 7 years old in Sandusky [Ohio]. With my size and athletic ability, maybe God had destined me for something great,” Pace said. “The dream always begins as a dream. It takes hard work to make it a reality.”
Stanfel was a four-time Pro Bowler while playing with the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins during a career that spanned 1952-58. He was the offensive line coach for the Bears when they won Super Bowl XX.
Dungy coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Colts. Dungy led the Colts and Buccaneers to the playoffs in 11 of his 13 seasons coaching those teams.
The Colts won at least 10 games in all seven seasons under Dungy. They won five division titles during that span, and Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl.
Minnesota Vikings in 1992 and got him on path to be an NFL head coach.
“Denny went out of his way to teach me the responsibilities of being a head coach, taught me about things on and off the field,” Dungy said. “He did it because he wanted to see me become a head coach, and he wanted me to be prepared and be ready when that opportunity came, and I love him for that.”
Dungy also asked all of his former players in attendance to stand up during the ceremony: “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m up here because of you,” he said.
Stabler quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders to the AFC title game each season from 1973 to 1977. His 59.85 completion percentage was second all time at the time of his retirement in 1984. Stabler was 12-of-19 for 180 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in the Raiders’ 32-14 victory over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Stabler and Young were the only left-handed quarterbacks to start and win a Super Bowl.
Favre, who spoke last, was an 11-time Pro Bowler during his 16-year career. Favre led the Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls. They beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. Favre, who never thought he couldn’t complete a pass, held the NFL career record in passing yards (71,838), completions (6,300), most 3,000-yard passing seasons (18) and touchdown passes (508) when he retired following the 2010 season after spending his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Packers, Vikings and New York Jets.