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The man isn't so tough. Take popcorn. Popcorn scares him to death. When his three daughters were young and they begged for popcorn, he would grunt and whip up a batch, then spend an hour prying each little kernel from each little piece so the girls wouldn't choke. "You read about that kind of thing all the time," he would say. Balloons petrified him too. The girls would come home from a store with free balloons, and he would nearly faint from worry. “They could inhale them!” he would say. So he would holler “Look at that!” and pop the balloons with a pin. And hard candy? Not in his house. "You know how dangerous that can be?" he would say. At dinner he would stare at his girls during every bite, worried that they hadn't cut their meat small enough.

Not that he has gotten any better. When he couldn't find his oldest daughter, Lisa, now 20, the day of the San Francisco earthquake last year, he nearly squeezed the innards out of his cordless phone. The fact that she was eventually found, perfectly safe, hasn't kept him from stewing about it. “Do you know she was on the Bay Bridge 15 minutes before it collapsed? She could've been killed!” Then he knocks on wood.

There is not enough wood in the world for Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to knock. The best owner in pro sports may stand only 5' 7", but his supply of worry runs from here to the moon. When one of his San Francisco 49ers is injured in a road game and has to stay behind for treatment, DeBartolo sends his private jet for the player when he's ready to go home. "So he'll be more comfortable," DeBartolo says. When 49er safety Jeff Fuller severed nerves in his neck on a helmet-first tackle during a game with New England last October, DeBartolo immediately left his luxury box, followed the ambulance to the hospital, waited in Fuller's hospital room, watched Fuller cry, cried himself and eventually, under absolutely no legal obligation, arranged to pay Fuller—who still has no movement in his right arm—$100,000 a year for the rest of his life.

DeBartolo once called home twice a day from Europe just to check on Cleo, his Great Dane, who didn't happen to be sick. After seeing a CNN report in late '88 about Amber Garza, a one-year-old in Fort Myers, Fla., who was gravely ill and awaiting a liver transplant, DeBartolo sent $25,000 to the TLC Governor's Fund to help her or, if she died, other children in similar situations. When Garza died soon afterward, DeBartolo sent $1,558 to cover her funeral. Today, three years after his mother's death from lung cancer, DeBartolo still worries that he didn't do enough for her. “Every day you read about something else they're trying in Mexico or Japan or somewhere,” he sighs.“"You can't help but wonder if you've tried everything.”

The man has fretted his way to the top. Is this player happy? Is he mad at me? Does he feel part of the team? Is his wife happy? “Thank god Eddie didn't have to cut guys,” says Bill Walsh, the 49ers' ex-coach, “or they'd never have gotten cut.” DeBartolo would have 1,311 guys on the taxi squad if the NFL would let him.


His largess is the largest in the league. When Niner fullback Harry Sydney and his wife, Nancy, had their third child, DeBartolo sent flowers two hours after the birth. “Two hours!” says Sydney. When linebacker Jim Fahnhorst's wife, Kim, delivered twins, DeBartolo's flowers weighed 70 pounds. Every time the 49ers win their division—and every Easter, too—every player and staff member gets two dozen long-stemmed red roses for his wife or mother or girlfriend. Last Christmas DeBartolo sent each wife or girlfriend a $500 Neiman-Marcus gift certificate. “When I signed, Eddie sent me a fruit basket,” says new 49er nosetackle Fred Smerlas. “I spent 11 years in Buffalo, made five Pro Bowls, and I never got a fruit basket. In fact, I never even got a piece of fruit.”

When the Niners won their third Super Bowl, in January '89, DeBartolo flew every player and office staffer and a guest to Youngstown, Ohio, DeBartolo's hometown, for two nights. He brought in the pastry chef from the Beverly Hills Hotel, the head chef from the Mayfair House hotel in Miami and four other chefs from across the country. They produced a gourmet dinner for 750, including freshly made pasta, smoked Norwegian salmon, imported lobster, Belgian endive salad and homemade chocolates—all served by more than 100 models brought from New York and elsewhere and trained as waitresses for the occasion. Singer Jeffrey Osborne entertained.

The night before the banquet, DeBartolo reserved his restaurant, Paonessa's, exclusively for his guests. The women found no prices on their menus. Come to think of it, neither did the men. Each night, the players came back to their rooms at the Holiday Inn, which DeBartolo also owns, to find a surprise: a portable CD player, a decanter of perfume, a bottle of cologne, Godiva chocolates in a cut-glass vase, a bottle of champagne, the inevitable fruit basket. This stuff will beat a mint on your pillow every time.

When the Niners won the Super Bowl again last January, DeBartolo had to top his considerable self—and did. He flew everybody to the Westin Kauai in Hawaii for a week of thankstaking. This time Huey Lewis entertained. The players got $600 to spend on meals, which, of course, were all free in the first place. "Then he decides that wasn't enough," says linebacker Matt Millen, "so he gives us $500 more."

Forty-niner coach George Seifert casually mentioned once that his fishing boat was in pretty bad shape. DeBartolo bought him a new boat. “If we win the Super Bowl again,” says Seifert, “you can be sure I'll mention my small three-bedroom house.”


DeBartolo doesn't fuss only over large, sweaty athletes and their dates. He worries about 4'10" secretaries, too, and even men of the cloth. When the Niners moved their offices from Redwood City, Calif., to Santa Clara, he bought a train pass for each secretary with a long commute and had each of them picked up at the Santa Clara station and driven to the office, even though the walk is less than four blocks. "There's a lot of traffic on that road," he said. Priests eat free at Paonessa's in Youngstown.

DeBartolo has a nice command of the English language except for one word: no. He sends money and gifts to sick children such as one boy with cancer in Sacramento and another in Youngstown. "And that's just two of dozens of people the boss helps," says Kathy Keklak, secretary to DeBartolo, sifting through a file of answered prayers.

When O.J. Simpson became a Niner in 1978 via the Lawrence Welk trade—San Francisco gave up "a one and a two and a three," not to mention a four and a five-he didn't do much for the team on the field, gaining only 1,053 yards over two injury-plagued seasons. Yet when Simpson was going through a divorce in 1980 and was about to lose his house, DeBartolo lent him the money to keep the place. Says Simpson, "Eddie is a hard guy not to like."

Simpson must not have talked to many NFL owners.

It's four in the morning and DeBartolo is already whirring away on the exercise bike. He'll ride and read for 90 minutes without stopping, then hit the rowing machine, then the stair-climber. If he's on the road, he will have all the machines waiting for him in his hotel room, damn the cost. When you are 5' 7", your height cannot impress, but your chest size can. Eddie's chest is thick, his legs monstrous. “If Joe Montana had the boss's legs,” says Bill Moses, a senior VP in the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., “he'd play till he's 45.”

Ever since DeBartolo was old enough to fight, he had plenty reason. Not only was he little, but he was the only son of the richest, most powerful man in town. He was athletic but too small to make the football or basketball team. For a little guy, he could sure carry a big chip.

“Eddie was feisty,” says childhood chum Tim Porter. "Whenever you'd see a crowd start gathering, you'd go over and, sure enough, there was Eddie and somebody getting ready to fight." Most of the fights at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown were rescheduled for later that day at the Pavilion, an old band shelter nobody used except to prove his manhood. Eddie was a popular entry on the Pavilion cards because even when he lost, he got in his licks. “I'll tell you one thing,” says his friend Bill Lopatta, vice-president of a Youngstown foundry. “If you knock Eddie down, you better be there to knock him down again, because he'll never stop coming at you.”


DeBartolo's temper is still as quick as his fists. At a San Francisco hotel on the day of the Dallas game in December 1985, a belligerent Cowboy fan grabbed DeBartolo by the wristwatch and DeBartolo punched him so hard that the man skidded across the marble floor and made a hole in the drywall. After the man was helped away, Niner general manager Carmen Policy dragged a potted plant over to cover the damage. At the Fonderlac Country Club in Youngstown a few years back, Policy says, DeBartolo tried to calm down two rowdy drunks and found himself in a brawl. Eddie Sr. jumped in, too, and the DeBartolos both got in some decent shots. In fact, one overhand right from the old man hit Policy in the ear. “Uh, Mr. D, I think I caught that punch,” Policy said afterward. Said Mr. D, "You should have gotten out of the way.”

If you think that Eddie Sr. is tough now, you should have seen him when Eddie Jr. was young. In fact, the old man was one of the problems that DeBartolo had with appearing at the Pavilion. “When you'd get home, your dad would kick you worse,” he says. Talk about symbolic. Way down inside, DeBartolo has been fighting his father all along.

Yeah, they love each other. They talk 10 times a day if they talk once. Senior eats at Junior's home four times a week. But if there is a father you would not want to try to live up to, it would be Eddie DeBartolo Sr., 20th-ranked American on the 1990 FORTUNE list of billionaires; developer of malls (more than 87 million square feet); owner of hotels (three) and racetracks (three); sports impresario (the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Civic Arena); and pinup boy for the American Dream. He sleeps four hours a night, eats seven times a day and does 50 sit-ups every morning.

Of course, the elder Eddie DeBartolo wasn't even Eddie DeBartolo until high school. He was born Anthony Paonessa in May of 1909, two months after his father died of pneumonia. His mother, Rose Villani, married Michael DeBartolo, a Youngstown masonry contractor, when the boy was two. By the time Anthony was 12, he was not only teaching his stepfather to read and write but also handling the man's paving contracts. Soon, the business was flourishing. Anthony admired his stepfather so much that in high school he changed his name to Edward J. DeBartolo, the Edward being for a favorite uncle.

But when an Italian from a tough part of town changes his name, people get suspicious. What was he running from? The Mafia? In those days, "there were all kinds of murderers, thieves and characters," says Eddie Sr. "They had to explain my success with something."

In 1980, Senior wanted to buy the Chicago White Sox but was rejected by commissioner Bowie Kuhn and major league owners. The rumor was that the owners thought DeBartolo had Mafia connections. "Did that hurt?" says Senior. "Damn right it hurt. We could have bought that franchise for $17 million. It's worth $75 million now." Says his son bitterly, "Kuhn was prejudiced. He didn't want us in the league." Kuhn denied this.

The Mafia rumors, though unsubstantiated—the DeBartolo Corp. has been investigated by three state racing boards and the NFL, which found no problems—still dog the DeBartolos. "All I can say is, if we're in the Mafia, we've got to be jerks for working so hard," says Eddie Jr.'s younger sister, Marie York.

Eddie Jr. was born in 1946 and grew up to be not at all like his father. Senior is restrained, the sort of man you lean close to, to hear. Junior is a hugger and kisser, buoyant, vibrant, colorful. In a reception line, Senior makes do with nods and smiles. Junior is on you like you were just freed by Iraq.

Senior lives to work, not the other way around. Nobody at the office can remember seeing him without a tie. There's a tennis court attached to his house, but he has never played on it. He outworks employees 50 years younger. On a recent trip to Florida, he visited nine building sites the first day, seven the next, and was back home in Youngstown that night. He works Saturdays and Sundays, too, and every holiday, including Christmas. Then again, he can keep this kind of schedule. He's only 81.

"I think he goes home at night just to charge his batteries, refuel himself at the nuclear pump, and change points and plugs," says Policy.

Eddie Jr. at least takes vacations. He calls the office 10 times a day, but he takes vacations. He plays golf. "He's got a 16 handicap," says his brother-in-law, Buzz Papalia. "Ten if he doesn't bring his phone." He has a 1,500-acre ranch near Kalispell, Mont. He is a lover of Scotch, dinner checks, the best suite, the nicest table and the finest bottle of Taittinger Arman (he and his Youngstown buddies call it "Armani" for laughs).

Senior is practically allergic to luxury. He lives in the same house he built himself in the 1950s, an unpretentious ranch two minutes from his office. The only things that set it apart from the other houses in the neighborhood are the 24-hour security guard out front and the stretch limousine parked on the side.

Eddie Jr., on the other hand, owns a Bentley, a Jag, two Mercedes, a BMW and a Land Rover. His suits are Italy's finest. One night Frank Cooney, an old friend who writes for the San Francisco Examiner, accompanied DeBartolo, Policy and a few others on a town-painting. The raucous evening eventually wound up at the bar of a very swank restaurant. "Shots of Fondateur!" DeBartolo bellowed. The news was greeted by roars of approval from everybody in the entourage but Cooney.

“What's Fondateur” he asked.

“Brandy,” said Policy.

Cooney, not one to be impolite, chugged his like everybody else.

“How 'bout another?” DeBartolo asked Cooney.

“Why not?”

And when they urged Cooney to have a third, he said, “What the heck.”

As he was gunning that last one, Cooney was given a huge backslap by one of the buddies. "Not bad for $180 a shot, eh, Frank?"

Life with DeBartolo means never having to wait for the sale. “Eddie handles money the way you like to think you'd handle it if you had it” says Simpson. DeBartolo is famous for exceeding the ceiling the NFL puts on the cost of Super Bowl rings—$3,500 this year. The ones he had made for the current champions would redden the cheeks of a Tiffany clerk: Each ring has four marquise diamonds shaped like footballs sitting atop a bed of smaller diamonds, 44 in all. On the sides are the wearer's name, engraved in large letters, plus a rendition of the Golden Gate Bridge mounted on four reliefs of Super Bowl trophies with the years '81, '84, '88 and '89 carved in them. The rings may be worth as much as $10,000 each. DeBartolo ordered 105.

His house is modest, just slightly smaller than your basic Sheraton. The rec room has a full soda fountain with a six-nozzle soda-pop dispenser, more beer glasses than some Shakey's, and walls lined with LeRoy Neimans. When you step into any room in the house, the lights come on automatically. A 100-foot tunnel leads from the game room, the one with the five television sets, to the workout room, which features three rowers, four climbing machines, three stationary bicycles, one treadmill, a dozen or so weight machines and other contraptions too mysterious to comprehend.

Not that DeBartolo flaunts it. Nobody gets you your beer but him. When he was at Notre Dame in the mid-'60s, his roommate, All-America linebacker John Pergine, didn't even know DeBartolo was wealthy until DeBartolo invited him back to Youngstown for spring break. When they got to the South Bend airport they found the DeBartolo family jet gleaming at the end of the terminal. The way they came back to school wasn't too shabby either: by private prop plane from the infield at Eddie Sr.'s Thistledown racetrack in Cleveland, between the sixth and seventh races. "I felt like the President of the United States," says Pergine.

Those were the days when DeBartolo and Pergine would stay up late, plotting their brilliant careers on the dorm ceiling. "John, I'm gonna own a football team someday," DeBartolo once said.

Late-night dreams get forgotten in the morning. DeBartolo graduated in '68 and returned to his father's businesses. But something was not right. What challenge was there in taking over his father's work? It was like making the white pages or inheriting England. Even his father called him the Prince. "He was trying to find his own identity," says Candy, Eddie's wife and high-school sweetheart. "He had such big shoes to fill. It was always, 'This is Edward DeBartolo Senior's son.' Not, 'Eddie DeBartolo Junior.' "

Besides, what was there to do that his father wasn't already doing from 5:20 in the morning until eight at night? The mall game is knowing the right people at Sears and Nordstrom and J.C. Penney. "Back then, he wouldn't let anybody else handle the contacts," Eddie Jr. says. "He had them all. And you found yourself saying, 'I don't want to take anything away from him. Maybe there's something else I should be doing.'”

One morning in January 1977, a phone message arrived from Joe Thomas, rock-fisted builder of football franchises in Baltimore and Miami. He wanted to know if Eddie Sr. wanted to buy the San Francisco 49ers. Could you tell him I called? Not so fast, thought Eddie Jr.

Why football? "He'll probably kill me for saying this," says Candy. "But because of his size, he wasn't able to really play sports in high school. And yet he really loved football. He's strong as an ox, but not tall, so maybe that's why he got into ownership."

Days later Pergine picked up the phone to find his old roommate on the other end. “Remember the time I said I was going to buy a football team?” DeBartolo asked.

“So?” said Pergine, who had gone on to play pro ball (four years with the Rams, three with the Redskins).

“I just bought the San Francisco 49ers.”

DeBartolo was 30.


Unfortunately, when he bought the team, DeBartolo installed Thomas as general manager. In two years, Thomas practically wrecked the franchise. He began by ordering all the pictures of former 49er greats taken down and burned. (A public relations assistant hid them in his basement instead.) Thomas told 49er legends like Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle that their days of special privileges were over. He abolished the kids' section at Candlestick Park, wiped out the cheer-leading group, even canceled the team Christmas card.

The 49ers' popular coach, Monte Clark, refused to work with Thomas and quit. No problem, said Thomas. His football philosophy, he told DeBartolo, was that "running backs, wide receivers and coaches are a dime a dozen." Thomas then set out to prove it by bringing in a string of empty suits as coaches. Or do the names Ken Meyer, Pete McCulley and Fred O'Connor ring many bells with you? Thomas's two drafts (1977 and 1978) were disasters. Of his '77 picks, not one played for the Niners more than a year.

But DeBartolo had promised “unbending patience” and stayed with Thomas. His father had taught him his secrets: Treat your key employees like family, pay them like royalty, and fire them only for disloyalty. Boneheadedness you can work around. So the heat found its way to Youngstown. One columnist called DeBartolo a "5' 7" punk," another called him a "gunslinger from the East." The average fan figured DeBartolo for nothing more than a spoiled brat who'd broken the Christmas toy Daddy bought him at Franchises 'R' Us.

That galled them both. “You can't give somebody a $17 million gift,” says Senior. "You'd have to pay half of that again in taxes. He bought the goddamn team. It was no gift." Of course, Eddie Jr. wasn't exactly a self-made man. Still, buying the team was his deal, and keeping his father out of it was not just what Eddie wanted, it was what he needed. "Eddie was going to either rise, or fall on his face," says his buddy Porter, "but he was going to do it on his own."

The Niners lost the way Chicagoans voted—early and often: 5-9 the first year, 2–14 in 1978. Every other weekend, Candy and Eddie would fly back grim-mouthed from San Francisco. The losing was jangling their marriage. “It put a damper on our relationship,” she says. “You're not yourself. You're not pleasant seven days a week.” In fact, Eddie was hardly pleasant three days of the week. If the Niners lost, it would be Wednesday before his office door stayed open again.

The losing drove him to his knees, literally. At a game late in '77, a half-full can of beer hit DeBartolo on the head, and he buckled. “You son of a bitch!” he hollered up at nobody. “At least you could've drank it first!” But even that wasn't rock bottom. Rock bottom arrived during another game, at home. A man spit in DeBartolo's face from three feet away. “And I mean a big ol' hocker,” says DeBartolo, still cringing. “I was so steamed and so frustrated. I didn't know what to do. And all I could think was, ‘What the hell am I doing here? I could be back in Youngstown playing golf.’” Some way to treat a prince.

Meanwhile, Thomas was becoming less and less earthbound. “He was falling apart,” Candy remembers. “You'd see him, and he'd be ranting and raving, a nervous wreck. He'd be so paranoid, he'd be sweating through his leather coat.” On Monday, Nov. 27,1978, San Francisco mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk were shot to death by Dan White, a depressed former supervisor. The Niners were playing Pittsburgh at home that night, and Thomas wanted to cancel the game, but for the wrong reason. He was worried about his own safety. “I knew then that I had to make a change,” says DeBartolo.

He hired the anti-Thomas, Bill Walsh of Stanford, as coach and general manager. Walsh, DeBartolo, sanity and a little luck helped launch a dynasty.

"What should we do with this Notre Dame kid?" Walsh teased DeBartolo when the 82nd pick came up in the third round of the '79 draft and Joe Montana was available.

"What the heck," said DeBartolo.

"He's a Notre Dame kid. How can you go wrong?"

The losing years were soon over, and then DeBartolo forgot how to lose. He can be the kindest man on the planet, but when he's mad, Napoleon can kick in. “When he's mad? He can be a real s.o.b.,” says DeBartolo's friend Lopatta. At various times, Eddie has pulled phones out of walls, screamed at his own employees and even offered to "kick ass" in the case of a San Francisco Chronicle beat writer who correctly predicted the 49ers' loss to the Bears in 1988. DeBartolo was so disgusted at losing to the Vikings in the 1.987 playoffs that he went off on a two-week Caribbean vacation with Candy and a few other couples and forbade anybody to talk football. At an exhibition game in London the next season, Montana and running back Roger Craig were late to a press conference. "That's not unusual," DeBartolo said. "They didn't show up at our playoff game with Minnesota, either." Sure, everybody on the 49ers is part of a family. Of course, sometimes this family bites.

But would you want to go back to those phlegm-filled days of losing? Nowadays, even when he's winning, DeBartolo worries about losing. Early in last season's Super Bowl, the Niners were ahead 7–3 and starting to drive. Walsh, who retired as coach after the '88 season and was a guest in the owner's box, turned to DeBartolo and said, “Considering the way Denver is lined up on defense, this could be a huge rout.”

DeBartolo would not hear of it. “You're crazy. You're out of your mind,” he said. DeBartolo refused to admit triumph until there were only five minutes left to play in the game.

It was his fourth Super Bowl win in nine years, a record matched only by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Art Rooney (four in six years) and certainly unmatched by DeBartolo's father, who lost $10 million on the Pittsburgh Maulers of the USFL and has taken a bath on the Penguins as well. So there it was. The Prince had outdone the King in at least one thing.

“I think that meant a lot to Eddie,” says Moses. “I think it means everything.”

Says Eddie, “I never tried to be my father. If I had, I'd have become the biggest failure that's ever been.”

Now his problem is, he's too good.

Not everybody likes DeBartolo. He can be a bit too macho for some. One of his two luxury boxes in San Francisco is subdivided so women watch the game on one side and men on the other. “I would never watch a game with a woman,” DeBartolo says. “They'd chat.” He has no great understanding of journalists, either, despite his friendship with Cooney. DeBartolo once tried to ban Frank Blackman of the San Francisco Examiner from covering the Niners because Blackman had written some negative stories about the team. But nobody dislikes DeBartolo the way some NFL owners dislike him. To them, he's the Man Who Killed Parity.

“The issue here,” Eagles owner Norman Braman said, “is that the rules should apply to everyone, but they didn't apply to everyone, and things have gone to hell.... I fear for the family businesses—the clubs owned and operated by families.”

Braman and other owners claim that four years ago DeBartolo secretly transferred ownership of the Niners from his personal portfolio to the DeBartolo Corp., of which he is president and chief administrative officer. (The 49ers insist that the transfer was made clear in documents presented to the league that year.) NFL rules say that only someone whose primary business is football can own a team. Braman and the other owners complain that corporations can use their losses as tax write-offs, while families can't. Never mind that Washington, Minnesota and Houston all have arrangements similar to DeBartolo's. Braman and the others know that DeBartolo not only can afford the San Francisco 49ers, he could practically afford San Francisco. Anything he pours into the 49ers is pretty much tip money.

“Braman talks to hear himself talk,” says DeBartolo. “He's got no business telling me how to run my team.”

No, the real score is that the owners object to DeBartolo playing the Easter Bunny to his team: the secret bonuses to players for performance, the "country-club atmosphere" of the Niners' lavish facilities, the endless gifts, the outrageous salaries. Backup quarterback Steve Young makes $1.1 million a year for running a nice clipboard. Smerlas makes $750,000 and won't start. Dumb money? Have a look.

Take the Neiman-Marcus certificates. Why give them? “Because if he can't win a player's heart, he might win the wife's,” says backup tight end Jamie Williams, formerly of the Oilers. “I know that my wife is a lot more understanding now. She'll say, ‘You've got to get your workout in today, don't you?’ Now she feels part of something.”

Take how DeBartolo treats his players on the road. They get the best security (a phalanx of guards escorts them from locker room to bus, from bus into hotel, and so on), each player has a hotel room to himself, and the planes are big enough for each player to have at least two seats, a luxury. DeBartolo's private chef always has prime rib on the in-flight menu. It probably doesn't make a difference, but then again, the Niners had the best road record in the NFL in the '80s.

Their new practice facility in Santa Clara is named the Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Centre, after Eddie Jr.'s mom, but the players call it the Taj. It's got a 30' x 40' hydrotherapy spa, racquetball courts, a steam room, a picnic area and a huge locker room, where each player has a bronze plaque engraved with his individual achievements. The players want to fill the plaques up, and when they do, they fill up Eddie's trophy case at the same time. Is that so bad?

During the Niners' stir-frying of the Vikings in the playoffs this year, Vikings were helping Niners up after tackles and asking, “Hey, man, tell me how I can play for Mr. D.” And when the NFL finally installs a salary cap, those players will still be beating down DeBartolo's door. Underneath the eye black, NFL players are still people, and people like to be treated like human beings.

The other owners will probably win the battle, but DeBartolo will win the war. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to rule on DeBartolo's case this month, and Eddie expects to be fined. But when that's done, he also expects Tagliabue to push to rewrite the league's bylaws and “bring the league into the 21st century,” allowing the DeBartolo Corp. to continue to own the Niners.

What then? What will DeBartolo have left to prove? Careerwise, he's 6' 3". What's next?

“Maybe baseball,” says Candy. DeBartolo has played footsie with the San Francisco Giants for years, pondering whether to buy the team, build a stadium near the Taj in Santa Clara and move the Giants there. Then again, he is still the heir to the throne of a conglomerate that exerts a powerful influence on everyday American life. He also owns Power Burst energy drink and Murex Clinical, a corporation that is trying to market a 10-minute, at-home AIDS test.

Still, DeBartolo toys with the idea of moving to San Francisco and commuting to Youngstown. Two of his daughters, Lisa and Tiffanie, will be in the Bay Area attending college for the next two years, and who knows how small they're cutting their meat? “This company doesn't need a dictator anymore,” he says. “It doesn't need a DeBartolo there every moment.”

Besides, there may be more important things to come. Nikki, the youngest daughter, will be off to college in three years, and who will be there to absorb all that worrying? There is only, one solution. Either buy another team or adopt. The DeBartolos are thinking about adopting.

“A baby,” Eddie says. “A year old, maybe 18 months. We're serious.”

Send no balloons, please.