Four of the twenty-five Pro Football Hall of Fame Semifinalists have ties to the San Francisco 49ers. Roger Craig, Eddie Debartolo Jr., Charles Haley and Kevin Greene—who only played one year in San Francisco—received this honor on Wednesday. The process, which will be drawn out until Super Bowl Week, has a long way to go. Which former 49er has the best chance of becoming enshrined?
Though Greene and Haley were both monsters on the gridiron, it is difficult imagining either of them being voted in this year, as both Michael Strahan and Warren Sapp are eligible and likely only one spot will be allotted to a defensive lineman. Craig and Debartolo face their own challenges, but both appear more likely to have a shot.
Roger Craig is one of the most underappreciated running backs in the history of the NFL—Frank Gore might be one of the few appreciated even less. Craig played on some great teams with good players all around him, yes, but he also enabled Joe Montana to play the game the way he did. It is no secret that running and passing games compliment each other. Even so, Jerome Bettis is another semifinalist, as is Terrell Davis. It is possible Craig gets in, he probably should above the other two running backs, but “The Bus” is still remembered quite fondly by fans and media members alike. I see him getting in over the other two.
Debartolo is probably the most deserving of all the 49er candidates. He built the championship squads of the ‘80s and ‘90s and made San Francisco relevant on the national stage. Everyone saw the downward spiral that ensued when he was forced out of ownership. If Tony Dungy were not thought of so highly as a person, I would place Debartolo’s chances much higher. I do think he rates strongly against Paul Tagliabue and George Young, the former commissioner and contributor, respectively.
Though it would be difficult for any of the four former 49ers to enter the Hall of Fame this year—it is difficult any year, otherwise it wouldn’t hold the prestige that it does—Eddie Debartolo Jr. probably has the best shot of entry. He probably deserves it the most too. Let’s hope he gets that well-deserved yellow jacket.