Most Bay Area fans would like to think that Jed York is building a San Francisco 49ers team in the image of his successful uncle, Eddie Debartolo.
Debartolo took over the 49ers ownership when they were in the tank in 1977, four years later they were Super Bowl Champions and for the next two decades the class of the league. In fact, Debartolo took such good care of his players and organization that the league passed rules to limit what he could give them.
Everything about the 49ers under Debartolo’s leadership was first class, and one of the things he detested from the start was a slogan the marketing department had come up with years earlier, “49ers Faithful.” Debartolo saw that as an excuse for failure while still trying to entice fans to buy season tickets despite inept work in the front office and play on the field.
It took Debartolo a few years to wean the fans off that slogan but after a couple Super Bowl wins it was no longer heard, replaced by chants of ‘threepete’ and ‘one for the thumb.’
For those that think York is a chip off his uncle’s block are not familiar with the family dynamic. York is the son of Eddie’s sister, Denise, who married Dr. John York, a man Eddie dislikes just a little more than one might enjoy a tack stuck in a bare foot. The hopes that Jed would take a lead from his uncle is to dismiss that he is much more loyal to his father, who is now the majority owner of the 49ers.
I saw firsthand proof of how different Jed and Eddie are last night when I attended the Rolling Stones concert at Levi’s Stadium. In building size cloth banners over the entrance to the stadium are pictures of Joe Montana and Roger Craig with the caption below the art, “Faithful Then.” Adjacent to the Montana and Craig photos is the same huge size poster of Jimmy Garopolo and a couple other current Niners with the caption below, “Faithful Now.”
In other words, the 49ers are reaching back to their vault of ideas and hoping fans will follow a team with little more success, and a lot less promise, than the recent Cleveland Browns. Gone are the aspirations of greatness and present is the hope that fans will be faithful to a team that if a ship at sea would be rudderless.
In other obvious contradictions, Debartolo hired Bill Walsh early in his career following a one year failed experiment with Joe Thomas as General Manager. Walsh was joined in the front office by two proven men of integrity, Carmen Policy and John McVay. With those three men in place, the athletes followed; Montana, Rice, Lott and the rest of the winning group soon erased faithful with excellence.
York took over as team president in 2008, appointed by his father. In ten seasons at the helm of the 49ers he has hired five head coaches and only one, Jim Harbaugh, gained any success with the Niners on the field. Current head coach Kyle Shanahan is 10-22 in his first two seasons and doesn’t appear to be in trouble because he signed a six year deal when he joined the franchise before the 2017 season.
After his first ten years as owner, Eddie Debartolo had two Super Bowl rings and was poised to pick up a third and fourth in the following two seasons.
After his first ten years, Jed York has added no additional Super Bowl victories to the 49ers collection and is counting on his fan base to be “faithful.”
Tonight, the 49ers are in Denver and meet the Broncos to close out second week preseason action. Under the direction of General Manager John Elway, Denver continues their search to replace the one quarterback that delivered success to the Broncos during Elway’s reign, Peyton Manning.
His drafting of quarterbacks has been failure after failure and that trend appears to be repeating itself with this year’s selection, Drew Lock. He has been horrible in his preseason work, which includes two live scrimmages because Denver opened the preseason in the Annual Hall of Fame game.
The real hopes for the Broncos this year are pinned on the quarterback who beat the 49ers in their only Super Bowl appearance during York’s tenure, Joe Flacco. He comes over this year from the Baltimore Ravens and may revive success in the Mile High City.
Problem with tonight, if we wanted to take the Broncos, is that Lock is going to see a bulk of the action and he is not a good bet. As for the 49ers, faithful isn’t what I’m looking for when I go to the window.