You’ve got to hand it to the San Francisco 49ers for defying the odds. They’ve actually managed to show that you can field a team that’s worse off the field than on it.
Of all the losing calls the organization has made in recent years, none can be as bad as one made by co-owner John York last week when — after nine years of halting starts, feints and promises — he decided to throw in the towel on building a new stadium in The City that gave the team its name.
But York’s 11th-hour surprise that he was going to move the 49ers to Santa Clara has a hole big enough to build an amusement park in — he’s got no deal, no plans and little more than the anxious desires of a nervous city council to help him pull it off.
This isn’t the first time York has nearly brought the franchise to its knees — he sacked coach Steve Mariucci even after he proved that he could win with relatively thin talent because York didn’t like that Mariucci was attracting and entertaining other offers.
Then he brought in Terry Donahue, a successful college coach who proved he had absolutely no place running a professional football organization, making bad personnel decisions and leading horrible drafts that have made the 49ers among the weakest teams in a league brimming with mediocrity.
And all the while he ran delays and end runs on the team’s promise to rebuild the aging concrete wreck known as Candlestick — a plan to which voters contributed a $100 million pass back when the name DeBartolo was still popular around these parts.
I couldn’t even begin to count how many times the team’s owners have said a stadium deal was in the works — even when it wasn’t. But in the last year it appeared that the organization was finally going to come up with the goods, working feverishly with city officials and a housing developer to bring a workable complex out to Candlestick Point.
It was just a few months ago when the team started making the public rounds with its plans, bringing its public relations extravaganza full of colorful drawings and Power Point presentations to editorial boards around the Bay. It was quite a public display of confidence for a team that has been in a steady state of decline — a clear indication that the team had a game plan and apparently the wherewithal to pull it off.
It appears that it was all for show now, a Statue of Liberty play that fooled everybody involved — the mayor, the NFL, the public and apparently officials in Santa Clara, who must no doubt believe that Christmas came very early this year.
York says the hurdles prompting his decision — the parking lot, public transportation and the ever-elusive “fan experience’’ — were insurmountable. The only problem: He forgot to mention any of his concerns to the people he was negotiating with until the ball was on the 10-yard line with the clock running down.
Fan experience? The only thing that the fans want in a new stadium is a good and exciting team to watch, something the 49ers might have around 2012 — the date by which the new sports complex was supposed to be built. And you think that York might have had the decency to tell The City and the members of the U.S. Olympic Committee that in his mind it was never a sure thing, since the Candlestick stadium was the centerpiece of San Francisco’s bid for the 2016 Olympic games.
On Monday, the team’s new campaign designed to show that it was posting warning signs throughout the negotiations — all public declarations to the contrary — contained a new wrinkle. The 49ers sent out a press release stating that they have kindly offered to “continue to work with The City to explore holding Olympic events at its proposed new stadium in Santa Clara’’ — just in time to watch San Francisco officially drop its bid after suffering irreparable harm to its reputation with the USOC.
The team says it is willing to continue talks with San Francisco while it explores its nonexistent deal down south. And I know that must reassure Mayor Gavin Newsom, who no doubt holds York at his word. That red and gold knife in his back? Hey, no problem.
There is really only one hope for the future of the 49ers and any stadium built in the Bay Area, and it has nothing to do with transportation, parking or fan experience.
If the organization ever hopes to regain its once-proud glory, then the owners should do themselves and all the rest of the faithful a favor — and sell.