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Dear Mr. York:
Well, it's almost upon us. Your first training camp as managing owner of the San Francisco 49ers. You must have all sorts of emotions flying around, a nervous excitement not unlike what your players must feel in the seconds before kickoff. Savor these last few weeks of peace, Jed, because there isn't much rest in the six months of Armageddon that make up an NFL season. And actually, that's why I've chosen to write you this letter now. This might be my last chance to reach you for a while, and I have something really important to tell you.
On behalf of what I know is a healthy contingent of those most emotionally invested in the success of your enterprise, I just want to say:
We're glad you're here.
I know we fans can be pretty demanding. With varying degrees of cogency (and usually with little to no particular expertise), we demand that our general managers draft better, our coaches scheme better, our players execute better. With owners, though, we tend to have a little more difficulty defining what we want. That's not to say we don't love 'em and hate 'em, of course. But when it comes to specifics, we're often at a loss. How, after all, do you "own" better?
It's a complicated question. But after watching you since your debut during last season's coaching change, I think I've put my finger on it. The way you own better is by showing us you're one of us, and that's the greatness of what you're doing.
I don't think any owner of any franchise likes to lose. (No, not even Bill Ford.) Owners tend to be rich, the rich tend to be successful, and the successful tend to like success. But there's a difference between wanting to win and being a fan. I want to win when I play Monopoly, but when I lose I pretty easily go on with my day. By contrast, I want the 49ers to win about as much as I want anything in life, and when they lose, my soul is crushed into millions of tiny sharp-edged pieces.
See the difference?
You've called your Uncle Eddie the greatest owner in the history of sports, and you won't get any argument here. I don't know if any other owner could ever be as great a fan. He exulted after wins just like we did, and after losses he was just as despondent. And like we did, he truly, deeply loved his players. I still get misty when I see that footage of him hugging Steve Young at the end of that Super Bowl. You can't fake that. That was love. That was a fan.
When we fans know that another fan is up there, when we know that he hates losing as much as we do, then we're safe in the knowledge he'll do everything possible to win. He might make some mistakes—how many times did Eddie have to be talked out of firing Bill Walsh?—but he'll simply never stop trying. That's what a great owner is.
Of course, sadly, your uncle had to step away, and your parents stepped in. Looking back, I'm embarrassed by the horrible things that were written and said about them. They're good people—recently honored again for their service to the community—and the collapse of the team wasn't really their fault. The real villain was Terry Donahue, who somehow needed only two years to transform a division winner into an expansion team. And Donahue was Walsh's choice, not your parents'. Amazing, when you think about it. When Walsh first arrived, he inherited Joe Thomas's team. When he ultimately left, he gave us Terry Donahue's team. Both were easily the worst in the league. Walsh giveth, and Walsh taketh away.
So the treatment of your parents was woefully unfair, but try to understand, Jed. They weren't fans, or at least they didn't show it. And we were scared. We didn't want to see the 49ers morph into the Lions, perpetual losers. And we couldn't figure out why they seemed so opposed to the idea of letting a fan take over, a fan who would never allow that to happen.
Turns out, they had a fan in mind all along. They were waiting for you. And so were we.
Like us, you grew up with the 49ers. (Well, you grew up with them a bit more literally than we did, but still.) That's when the truest fandom develops, in childhood. So when you say you're a fan, we believe you. And when you say you "won't rest until we reestablish a championship culture," we believe that too. I can't tell you how important it was for you to say that, and for us to hear it. Don't you see what you were really telling us? You were telling us that you're one of us.
But your motto for this year is "don't tell me, show me," and you haven't just told us. Your efforts toward finally securing a Bay Area stadium worthy of this franchise have been nothing short of heroic; those who complain about your plan to move to Santa Clara simply don't understand just how generous you're being by staying in the Area at all. Your 49ers Hall of Fame will be a great way for us to stay in touch with our glorious tradition (though really, Jed, speaking of owners, shouldn't Tony Morabito be in that first group?). Even your new uniforms are exactly as you described them, a perfect blend of old and new. And you've topped it all off with the selection of Coach Singletary; though some naysayers might question his handling of, say, his quarterbacks, there's no denying he's inspired all of us to believe again. And hey, when you stood in that locker room and announced his hiring, and you made that bold promise of the glory to come, you were pretty inspiring yourself. Somewhere, your uncle was nodding in approval, and we were too.
Of course, until you actually fulfill that bold promise, the critics will be hounding you, ready to pounce on any perceived misstep. You're seeing that already, with the canned hysteria over this furlough of your business staff. In the grand scheme of things, a one-week furlough, during which less than three percent of the staff went without pay, shouldn't be a big deal. After all, the economy stinks, we're in the slowest part of the offseason, and you're spending plenty on needed improvements to the headquarters. (Oh, and furloughs are happening everywhere, including elsewhere in the NFL.) Yet there was the gallery of carnival barkers, screaming that this was another sign that the 49ers were stuck in "small-minded thinking." Ignore them, Jed. These goons live for kicking people when they're down. But winning cures everything. Stay focused. Once you deliver on your promise, you can start collecting their apologies.
Jed (by the way, can I call you Jed?), you just might be the coolest guy alive. You're young, you're handsome, and you're rich. (If you ever need to feel any better about yourself, I'd say all you've got left to do is fight crime at night as a masked vigilante.) But as if all that weren't enough, you own the San Francisco 49ers, and so far you're owning them very well. We've noticed, Jed. And we're grateful.
Anyway, that should just about do it. Take a deep breath. You're about to set off on the ride of your life. We'll be watching, living and dying with every snap. But we know that you'll be there with us, and I'm going to say it again.
We're glad you're here.