Two days ago, the San Francisco 49ers sent out a simple press release, just one sentence long, not including statements from the York family: Entrepreneur and philanthropist Anthony John York passed away on Friday, December 7, 2018, at the age of 35.
On Sunday, after handing one game ball to George Kittle for his seven-catch, 210-yard game in San Francisco’s 20-14 win over the Denver Broncos, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan symbolically gave another game ball to Tony York, handing it to his brother, team CEO Jed York.
“Since I’ve been here, the biggest Niner fan I’ve been around is Tony York,” Shanahan said in the Levi’s Stadium home locker room. “Obviously, he’s an owner and everything, but he loves the Niners more than anyone I’ve been around. There was no doubt about who we were playing for today. Jed, the fact that you could come today, hear, be here with us.”
Jed York, 38, hugged Shanahan, then hugged general manager John Lynch. He held the ball with both hands, and choked up. In a season that has seen San Francisco go 3-10, winning on Sunday wasn’t about moving further away from the No. 1 overall pick (the Oakland Raiders won, too, and the Arizona Cardinals beat the Packers last week, so the pick is safe). It was about moving forward. That’s what Tony York was about. A Tulane alumnus and a Bay Area high-tech entrepreneur, Tony founded Koda, a company focused on preparing young people for their first jobs out of college.
“This hasn’t been the easiest year for any of us,” York told the 49ers. “It’s probably the understatement of the year. My brother was a great kid. He loved everything about this. He loved everything about you guys. It was hard for him, sometimes, and I think he’s at peace now. But, I want you guys to know this: I talked to Kyle and John a little bit last night, and Bill Walsh said something. I don’t know if you shared it with them,” he said, turning to Shanahan. “But, ‘Champions behave like champions before they’re champions.’ This team is going to be a champion.”
With that, York promised that the 49ers, after all that’s beset them this season — losing their starting quarterback and running back, injuries decimating the secondary, the Reuben Foster debacle — would eventually win a championship ring.
“I’m going to leave a ring, when we get one, for my brother,” York said. “I want everybody around this room know how good that we can be. Believe in this brotherhood, believe in this guy [Shanahan], believe in this guy [Lynch], believe in yourselves, and it’s going to be about mental toughness. It’s going to be about what can we get through more than the other 31 teams out there, and we are going to do it. You guys keep fighting your asses off, and I’m going to get my brother a ring. I appreciate this very, very much.”