YOUNTVILLE – The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, an organization that began in 1979, is filled with San Francisco 49ers.
The Hall, now in its 38th year and serving to benefit youth sports programs, will welcome its latest class, which includes former 49ers President and Chief Executive Officer Carmen Policy, on April 24 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.
The enshrinement banquet, which will also honor Russell Baze, Bill Cartwright, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Matt Williams, begins with a VIP reception at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Past enshrinees include Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark, Brent Jones, John Brodie, Bob St. Clair and R.C. Owens, Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Buck Shaw, Gordy Soltau, Joe Perry, Frankie Albert, Jimmy Johnson, John Henry Johnson and Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle, Gene Washington, Billy Wilson, Dave Wilcox and Leo Nomellini.
Policy, who makes his home on a 14 ½-acre property in Yountville, will be honored for his work in football administration, which spans four decades.
Policy joined the Niners as vice president and counsel in 1979 and played a key role in San Francisco’s Super Bowl victories in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990 and 1995. The five Super Bowl rings – each one with his name engraved on it – are displayed in his office. Not far from his desk and computer are vineyards, which are in the Yountville Appellation and across the street from Stags Leap Appellation, plus adjacent to Oakville Appellation.
He and his wife, Gail, are co-owners/operators of Casa Piena, a winery that produces between 800 and 1,200 cases of cabernet sauvignon each year. There are two labels: Casa Piena and Our Gang.
“The rings are very special to me,” Policy said last week. “I like looking at them every day. I enjoy showing them to people. This is a representation of the San Francisco 49ers under the Eddie DeBartolo regime. Thank God I was blessed to be a part of it.”
Policy worked in the organization’s front office through 1998, rising from vice-president and legal counsel while helping shape the 49ers into a championship team with his day to day management. He has been recognized for his work.
In 1994, he was named as the NFL’s Executive of the Year by The Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly, as voted on by NFL owners and executives.
He later worked for the Cleveland Browns as its president and CEO for five years.
He has served as a member of the NFL Business Ventures Committee as well as the Super Bowl Advisory Committee and the Los Angeles Market Advisory Group. He also served as a member of the NFL Finance Committee.
Being part of the 49ers, said Policy, “was almost like being transformed from one great life to an even better life that one could never have imagined, and I owe it all to Eddie DeBartolo.”
DeBartolo, the team’s owner from 1977-2000, brought Policy, a native of Youngstown, Ohio and a trial lawyer, to the 49ers. Policy graduated from Youngstown State University in 1963 and went to Georgetown University Law Center.
“(DeBartolo’s) the one who gave me the opportunity,” said Policy. “He not only put me in the position to have this kind of experience, but also trusted me with authority to do the things I had to do, and that I thought were right for the organization. He backed me 100 percent.
“I just really relished just about every single day that I was connected with the 49ers. I relished my ability to be part of that great group of competitors that really created history. I’m a lucky guy.”
Hall of Fame selection
Policy and this year’s other inductees were elected to the Hall of Fame – a nonprofit organization that was founded by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s Sports Committee and Lou Spadia, a former president of the 49ers – in voting from media outlets around the Bay Area. Through 2016, there have been 165 individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame.
BASHOF has donated close to $4 million to youth sports programs throughout the Bay Area.
“I just couldn’t be happier,” said Policy, who will be honored for distinguished achievement. “I’m ecstatic. I’m thrilled. It’s an exhilaration, an honor. It’s humbling.
“It will be a great night. It will be a great 49er night.”
Policy’s presenter will be DeBartolo, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the Class of 2016.
The 49ers won 13 division titles, made 16 playoff appearances, advanced to NFC championship game 10 times, and was the first franchise ever to win five Super Bowls (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) during DeBartolo’s ownership. The franchise posted the best winning percentage in the NFL in both the decades of the 1980s and 1990s.
“We all took from (DeBartolo’s) lead,” said Policy. “He gave us everything we could need, for sure, and generally everything we wanted, to compete. There was accountability, of one form or another, for just about everybody in the organization. He set that kind of culture up and we preserved it as long as we could.”
BASHOF’s first enshrinement banquet, held in 1980, honored Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Luisetti, Ernie Nevers and Bill Russell.
BASHOF’s youth fund distributes sports-equipment grants to youth organizations in 11 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma.
Years with the 49ers
Policy said his “first official duty” as an attorney for the 49ers was to get coach Bill Walsh’s contract done after he had been hired in 1979.
In his 10 seasons as 49ers head coach, Walsh compiled a 102-63-1 record that was highlighted by 10 wins in 14 postseason games. Under Walsh, the Niners won six NFC Western Division championships and NFC titles in 1981, 1984 and 1988. San Francisco had victories in Super Bowls XVI, XIX, and XXIII.
The 49ers won 10 or more games and appeared in the NFC playoffs in seven of Walsh’s last eight seasons.
He was named the NFL Coach of the Year in 1981 and NFC Coach of the Year in 1984.
Just three years after taking over the 49ers, Walsh led San Francisco to a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.
“Working with Bill Walsh would have been similar to what certain scientists and professors would have felt working with Albert Einstein,” said Policy. “As smart as you think you are, you’ve got that guy in the corner office who’s somebody to just behold. He was a master at not only understanding the basic elements of football, but he understood football also as a chessboard and how the game of chess is played on the gridiron.
“He changed football. He changed it in not only in terms of the way it was designed and game-planned, but the way it was presented.
“Bill also fit San Francisco and the Bay Area. Bill was perfect for the Bay Area, San Francisco. Thank God I had the good judgment to constantly learn what I could from Bill while he was with us. I learned a lot.”
Policy said his history and experience as a trial lawyer came in handy quite a bit of the time during his years with the Niners.
“My job was to make sure everybody was able to do their job as effectively as possible. I was a little bit of a firearm, a little bit of a policeman. Very much a counselor.
“My job basically was to help make sure that things ran smoothly, so that nothing clogged the machine and it could be out there on the track, rolling around at the speeds it was accustomed to operating without any kinks in the motor or flat tires. That’s what I tried to do.”
Policy said he and his wife, Gail, fell in love with the Napa Valley in the 1980s. It was during a time when the 49ers did some entertaining in the area.
“The wineries were so accommodating,” he said. “It was like visiting family when we came up, and people loved it.”
Yountville is now his home, but he is in San Francisco a couple of days a week.
“I think the combination is beautiful,” he said.
Thomas Brown is the winemaker and Jim Barbour is the vineyard manager for Casa Piena. The first vintage for Casa Piena was in 2006.
“We found out that Casa Piena is the Italian version of full house,” said Policy.
To purchase Casa Piena wine, or for more information, go to www.casapiena.com
Following today’s 49ers
There is a new general manager and head coach leading the 49ers, who finished the 2016 season with a 2-14 mark.
John Lynch is the general manager and Kyle Shanahan is the head coach.
Policy follows the 49ers and said there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
“However, I truly am of the mind, that probably for the first time in a while, there’s going to be some harmony in that front office and in the locker room,” he said. “People will be on the same page. I don’t know if that particular page will necessarily generate the kind of wins we want to see.
“But I think it at least gives the organization a chance to move forward, have a direction, have a plan, and possibly put together a solid foundation for getting better.
“I hope no one expects this thing to happen over night.”