For long-time football fans, the news that former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards has died at the age of 93 may ring a faint bell. Without Edwards, Eddie DeBartolo possibly would still own the San Francisco 49ers.
In 1997, DeBartolo wanted a riverboat gambling license. Edward, in exchange, wanted $400,000 in cash. DeBartolo packed the money into a briefcase and gave it to Edwards.
When the scandal came to light, DeBartolo surrendered his ownership of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York. DeBartolo pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony, and he testified against Edwards. In 2000, a jury convicted Edwards on 17 racketeering and corruption charges. He spent more than eight years behind bars.
DeBartolo received two years of probation. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo.
A beloved owner of a team that won five Super Bowl on his watch, DeBartolo landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016. From time to time, talk has emerged of DeBartolo buying another team. That chatter has subsided in recent years.
Still, without the Edwards scandal, there’s a chance DeBartolo would still own the 49ers. And given that the 49ers won five championship from 1981 through 1994 with DeBartolo in charge, it’s hard not to wonder whether they would have gotten another one or two or three or more in the 20-plus years since DeBartolo stepped aside.