I try and I try and I try…but I can’t seem to understand the point of rooting for the present-day 49ers unless you have that disease Drew Barrymore had in 50 First Dates where you maybe got knocked out sometime in the early ‘90s and every day you wake up thinking the team is great while at the same time wondering why you have to make out with Adam Sandler.
The San Francisco 49ers are the worst organization in sports if not a harbinger of what’s to come for the NFL and its fans.
And it’s not just about the product on the field—which is atrocious and we’ll get to that. Their current state is the result of a systematic deconstruction of a once reputable franchise which garnered the fandom and support of an entire city and its surrounds through drafting and grooming the best, rewarding those who over-performed and producing champions, not bilking the public, as a way to pad the bottom line.
Look, I’m not telling you to write an incomplete note, unwrap your last Whatchamacallit and blow the brains out of your childhood memories. But isn’t there a way for you to gaze with fondness at the gold satin Chalk Line jacket hanging in the hall closet and just let bygone eras be bygones?
Time makes memories of us all, but your outrage over what happened to the once proud franchise has been well-earned and your exit should be permanent.
A quick breakdown of the rise and fell:
- The 49ers were purchased in 1977 for $13 million by Eddie DeBartolo Jr. DeBartolo’s father was a shopping mall magnate and junior took over the family business. At one point, the DeBartolo’s claimed to own more than 2 billion square feet of concrete monoliths, built on former wetlands, where hot dogs could be sold on a stick and little girls could get their ears pierced with fake diamond butterflies. As the head of a NFL team, DeBartolo Jr. quickly established a reputation for free-spending ways, loyalty to his players and hands-on ownership. This ushered in the most successful decade and a half for any franchise in NFL history and the 49ers won championships in 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1994.
- In 2000, DeBartolo testified against Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards in exchange for no jail time for failure to report a felony after he made a payment of $400,000 to the governor in exchange for a riverboat casino license. As a result of the fracas, the NFL forced DeBartolo to relinquish control of the team to his sister, Denise DeBartolo-York.
- From that point, the team was run by DeBartolo-York and her husband John York, a former cancer research pathologist, until they turned the franchise over to their son Jed in 2008.
- As soon as he got the keys to the crimson and gold Ferrari, young Jed started to make plans to move the team out of San Francisco. He commissioned a $1.3-billion-dollar box of glass shards in Santa Clara County using public funds and Goldman Sachs money. In its first two years of operation, the stadium has earned a reputation for traffic jams lasting up to three hours (though that his recently been remedied by people no longer attending the games) and seat license owners forced into buying tickets that sell for one-eighth their face value on the secondary market. The worst part of the physical stadium may be the angle you never see in cutaways. The multi-story press and luxury boxes look like a giant bank headquarters was somehow built over a couple dozen rows of seats and looms ominously over the common fan like a giant chunk of snow melting off a tree branch. The perilous stack of Lego blocks caters to the bro coders and suits as they barely notice what’s going on a field which comes up in divot-sized chunks nearly every play.
- Relocation was combined with strange front office and player personnel decisions (see: Jim Harbaugh’s dismissal spun as a necessary move in order to usher an era of journeyman coaches as the franchise’s Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor). As much as current
placeholdercoach Chip Kelly’s fast break offense was an anomaly and a revelation in the college game six or seven years ago, he’s showing—mostly because officials and, more accurately, advertisers, control the almost villain-who-won’t-fucking-die tedious pace of play for a NFL game—a two-win season may be aspirational this year.
- Add to that a rash of retirements by marquee players who gave the 49ers a shot at winning Super Bowl XLVII in 2013 and the continued employment of 2011’s NFL executive of the year GM Trent Baalke, who in five draft classes (2011-2016) has selected 49 players; fewer than 20 are still in 49ers jerseys and only four (Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, Carlos Hyde and Aaron Lynch) see significant playing time.
- Since 2000, the 49ers have become greed personified garnished with glaring front office shortcomings and very little talent, loyalty or motivation left on the field. The result is a catastrophe two to three hours away from the heart of SF on the 101 or the 280 or the 17 or whatever Bay Area backroad you choose to spend your Sunday sitting on, because idling by the It’s-It factory Monday through Friday wasn’t nearly enough time spent away from the family.
The Yorks took control of the 49ers the same year the San Francisco Giants’ ownership opened its own new self-financed waterfront stadium and ushered in an era that has brought a trio of World Series trophies to San Francisco using mostly home-grown talent.
The Giants’ ownership’s move to keep the team in The City turned a derelict naval garbage yard into an entirely new neighborhood of tech bros and their douchey marketing counterparts. (Success does come with a downside, so be it).
Again, the orange and black’s ownership group put their own shekels toward a venture that, frankly, was hemorrhaging money for the previous two decades. They also built a self-financing-can-work blueprint the rest of baseball, and much of professional sport, has emulated over the last half-decade (with the exception of most greedy NFL owners who still try to reach their scaly hands in the voting public’s pockets every chance they get. See: Nevada and San Diego).
The 49ers’ moving combined with the Giants’ rise means the gold-domers are no longer the team of record in San Francisco—which is curious to note, not to mention tough to reconcile, for anyone who grew up in the Bay Area in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s when the 9ers were as irreplaceably woven in The City’s fabric as Tadich Grill, Herb Caen, Tony Bennett and Joe DiMaggio. …All good things.
At least we’ll always (hopefully) have Tommy’s Joynt.
I get it. Things change and the more they do the more they make you realize that we’re all getting older. And the older we get the more we yearn for how things looked, tasted, felt and smelled.
Not to mention, you hated Candlestick. If you were a little boy during the 9ers heyday, the first time you peed in the trough there your Back to the Future-inspired red puffy vest was likely doused with the beer’y jet stream of other men’s urine. And there wasn’t much respite from the onslaught of unwanted moisture as most of the rest of the game you probably huddled in the crock of your father’s armpit as he sweat out about a baker’s dozen Coors Heavy pounders, his effort to keep himself warm.
I sometimes wonder how I made it through two decades of games at Candlestick and never once saw five or six dudes crowded around an oil barrel lighting trash on fire and singing doo-wop with The News to stay warm. Then again, I never had the pleasure of sitting in the lower deck.
To some kid growing up in Cupertino or Almaden or Morgan Hill: Maybe your memories of visiting Bourbon Steak at Levi’s and watching your father plunk down half your college fund on a strip of red meat and a 16 oz. Shock Top will be a part of your cherished past one day. And today’s nadir on the field will simply be the dark times you remember sticking out to see a glorious new road unfold. I will be a ghost trapped in a picture frame on a bar wall well before the 49ers rise again. By that time, it will be 2055 and you’ll be railing against the team’s return to San Francisco to their brand new $28 billion Alcatraz stadium “The Rock” built by Jed York II. And this rant and this page will have long evaporated.
A fond memory of a darker time—lost to the ether like so many before it.
Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky” and his girlfriend says he should probably get that Chalk Line jacket dry cleaned, not just because it smells but because she hopes they might lose it.