I was thinking about Eddie DeBartolo Jr., which got me thinking about Jed York, which got me thinking about Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo, and the fickle nature of our sports fandom.
Eddie D has been in the news. You may have noticed. He is being linked to the Carolina Panthers, who will soon have new ownership because the current boss, Jerry Richardson, has been exposed as an old creep and needs $2 billion to purchase a giant rock to crawl under.
On Monday, ESPN reporter Jim Trotter tweeted this: “I’m told Eddie DeBartolo definitely is exploring the possibility of putting together a group to purchase the Panthers. He will have competition if he goes forward.”
Perhaps competition from a collective that would include hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, Warriors superstar and North Carolina native Stephen Curry, and former 49ers quarterback and cultural litmus test Colin Kaepernick. I know, that sounds like three names drawn at random from a hat, but all three men publicly floated the idea of a Justice League-style superteam on Twitter.
We think of DeBartolo as a San Francisco icon, but he is not tied to this area. He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and now lives primarily in Florida. Buying a team in Charlotte, North Carolina, wouldn’t be as strange for him as running one in the Bay Area, as he did from 1977 to 2000, before he ceded the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, following a corruption scandal.
Eddie DeBartolo remains wildly popular among veteran Niners fans. And when I read about his latest dalliance, my first thought was that some of those disgruntled fans might immediately start to root for the Panthers if Eddie D were to change his affiliation. Then I caught myself. That thinking is so 2016.
It dawned on me that I have hardly thought of Jed York this fall. Most local sports fans probably haven’t either. And what a wonderful development that must be for the CEO.
Starting in 2014, and increasing like a jungle drumbeat in an old Tarzan movie, 49ers followers began to turn on York. They were disappointed by his highly anticipated new stadium in Santa Clara, which had turf issues in its first season, and pricing and retina-scorching sun issues in every season. Mostly, though, people were ticked off about the state of the team.
After three consecutive trips to the NFC championship game under coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011-13, with a Super Bowl appearance sandwiched in the middle of that run, the 49ers wilted like a leaky football – falling to 8-8 in 2014, 5-11 in 2015 and 2-14 in 2016.
Fans snickered at Jim Tomsula and rolled their eyes at Chip Kelly, but most of their ire landed on York and his general manager, Trent Baalke. When Harbaugh began feuding with Baalke, York sided with his GM and helped to smear the coach. The faithful noticed. They got sick of York of sitting before the media after another dreadful season and making what sounded like empty promises.
I’m not claiming that the 49ers fan base has done a 180 on York. Many still see him as a Little Lord Fauntleroy who inherited the team from his uncle and his mom and oversaw the decline of a great franchise. In fact, I have seen plenty of tweets in the past 24 hours urging York to buy the Carolina Panthers and sell the Niners to DeBartolo.