Eddie DeBartolo said what!?!?

Eddie DeBartolo Jr. will always have a place in the hearts of longtime San Francisco 49ers fans. After all, the franchise won five Super Bowls while he owned the team.

But for some of those fans, that place may have just gotten a little bit smaller.

In a phone conversation with San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, DeBartolo serenaded this year’s 49ers team with compliments. But his highest praise of this years team might be the biggest slap in the face to the 1981 Super Bowl champion 49ers.

“They are so much better than our 1981 team,” DeBartolo told Kawakami.

Anyone else’s head just explode reading that?

Unfortunately, it gets worse. When asked to verify his statement, DeBartolo didn’t back down, saying “Hell yeah … All in all, they’re a better team than ’81.”

This current team is better than a team with three future Hall of Fame players and the most innovative coach in the history of the game?

Excuse me while I pick up the pieces of my brain off the floor.

Jim Harbaugh is good, but he’s not even in the same universe as Bill Walsh, who changed the way football is played. Their respective paths to the 49ers are similar, but that’s it.

Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Dwight Clark would run circles around Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree. Montana stepped up in big moments. Smith vanishes when the pressure is on.

On the way to the Super Bowl, the 1981 team defeated the Giants, Cowboys and Bengals in the regular season, then did it again in the playoffs. The only playoff team the 2011 49ers have beaten is the Giants. The 2011 49ers are unproven. The 1981 49ers ran a gauntlet and proved they were the best.

I will give DeBartolo two things: Frank Gore and this teams’ rush defense. Gore is one of the best running backs in the league right now, and far superior than anyone on the  1981 squad.

And the 49ers rush defense is all-time great. They still haven’t allowed an opposing running back to find the end zone. If they can keep Rashad Mendenhall, Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson off the board over the next three weeks, we have to seriously consider them as the best rushing defense ever.

It’s far too early to compare the 2011 roster to one of the greatest 49ers teams. If the 2011 49ers conquer the competition and capture the Super Bowl in February, we might be able to begin the conversation. But until then, Eddie D. should not disrespect the team that turned around the franchise and put him on the map.

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