Is it possible to root for an NFL team, and yet not root for the owner? 49ers owner Jed York has forced this question into my mind–and it’s about as much fun to think about as seeing that flashback playoff video of Leonard Marshall blindsiding Joe Montana and ending the season in 1991.
A while back, I wrote about why I think each community should own their team, like how the Green Bay community owns the Packers. Now the 49ers are becoming a shining example of how sports ownership can place itself between the field of play and the fans, in a bad way. To see the emerging dynamic, all you have to do is ‘follow the players’. Eight of the 49ers best players from last year have chosen to leave either by retirement or free agency. This includes free agents Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Michel Crabtree, and Chris Culliver. In addition, the four retirees this offseason have an average age of 28.5: Patrick Willis (age 30), Justin Smith (age 35), Chris Borland (age 24), and Anthony Davis (age 25). Given that there are 22 starting players, this is essentially like 36% of the best employees of a workforce choosing to leave a company at the same time. And this does not even include other players who chose to leave through free agency whom I don’t include as the top players on the team, such as Dan Skuta and Perrish Cox.
Is this what it was like in 1855 when the California gold rush ended?
It appears like 49er players would rather be somewhere else. This is exactly what Jed said to the city of San Francisco when he chose to move to Santa Clara for the 2014 season. Leaving San Francisco could be thrown aside if the 49ers continued their winning ways, but the losses on and off the field since this move are mounting.
Fans have paid 531.5 million for Personal Seat Licenses (PSL’s) at the new stadium, and PSL fees only give the right to buy seats. After all this fan investment, it seems like there are chaos and unchecked egos running wild in the ownership box. Since the move to Santa Clara, the 49ers have already pushed out their star head coach who helped them build fan support to sell all these PSL’s. His biggest fault appears to be having an ego–so he was replaced with a coach who has no NFL coordinator experience no college coaching experience and no ego. At the least, this new coach will do exactly what the owner tells him to do.
In addition, the billion dollar new stadium has not exactly worked out so far. It has been a parking and traffic terror, and the field itself rivals a rainy day at Candlestick when that old sod squad would run around in a frenzy at timeouts replacing all the divots.
But worse than all of this, on December 28, 2014, Jed rolled out his new team motto–which could be the most annoying team motto in sports history. The motto introduced that day: “Win with Class“.
Win with class? What is this, Ron Burgandy, Anchorman, and “keep’n it classy, Santa Clara”?
Jed introduced us to this gem as he was announcing the “mutual” parting of ways with Jim Harbaugh–even though it has been highly reported through multiple sources that not only was Harbaugh being pushed out, but that the 49ers hierarchy actually leaked stories throughout the season designed to undermine Harbaugh. Wait a second, leaking stories to make your own coach look bad would not exactly meet Ron Burgandy’s standard for being classy.
I don’t think Joe Montana or Jerry Rice ever felt the need to qualify their victories stating that they did it with class. It seems to me someone who would say they want to “win with class” either has not won much in their life, or they feel a personal vacancy of class.
With this motto, Jed seems to be implying that under the Harbaugh regime, the 49ers lacked class. Because under Harbaugh they certainly won. A lot.
Harbaugh’s 49ers record was 44-19 during four seasons as coach and he took the team to three consecutive NFC Championship games. Contrast this to those horrible 49er teams of the recent past coached by the likes of Mike Nolan, Dennis Erickson, and Mike Singletary. The record during the eight years before Harbaugh arrived was 46-82! Jed had to find some reason why he’d been pushing Harbaugh out, and so he dug up “win with class”.
Who is Jed York anyway? At the age of 28, in 2008, Jed was made President of the 49ers, by his mom.
His mother, Denise DeBartolo York, had inherited the team years earlier when her brother, 49ers legendary owner Eddie DeBartolo, was stripped of the team for bribing a governor. I’m not sure Jed came into this job in the most “classy” way with a river boat gambling bribe gone bad, so I can see why he may want to win with class.
Now that a few months have passed since the “win with class” era, how are the 49ers going about winning with class?
It now comes out that as the 49ers were announcing the termination of services of their employee Aldon Smith in a press conference last week, GM Trent Balke was spending time by the side of Aldon supporting him. I don’t know how many other companies do this for employees being shown the door. But I suppose if your motto is something extreme like ‘win with class’, going out of the way to act so classy Ms. Manners would blush is a natural progression. It’s actually nice to see the 49ers trying so hard to show class, and trying to help Smith.
Although I wonder, while losing eight key players to retirement and free agency, might the 49ers be forgetting about one of the words in their “winning with class” motto? Specifically the “winning” part?
Rooting for a team should be simple, and a team owner should remain in the periphery and let the focus be on the team. I wish we could bring back Uncle Eddie. Eddie may have been very human in falling short of ethical perfection at times, but the 49ers sure did win under him, and it sure was fun. I don’t remember ever thinking about the 49ers team lacking class during the 80’s and 90’s. And I don’t think Eddie ever leaked stories to the press to undermine his head coach.