Yorks carry Valley ties into Super Bowl
YOUNGSTOWN — Like many people in the Mahoning Valley, John York will be watching Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday with friends and family. But unlike most, the gathering will be anything but relaxing for York.
“All I want to do is get to Sunday. It is tension-filled. Everybody else is having a great time. … I hope that the players are relaxed,” York said.
Of course, York does have a little more invested in the outcome of the Super Bowl rematch between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. York and his family own more than 90% of the 49ers, and they will nervously cheer on their team in Las Vegas, hoping head coach Kyle Shanahan and second-year quarterback Brock Purdy can win the franchise a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title.
Before the game, York said he will attend a brunch and then complete his gameday tradition of passing out pins to as many fans as he can reach from the sidelines.
On Sunday, there will be plenty of 49ers supporters in Las Vegas, and many more in the Bay Area. But there is also a contingent of fans in the Valley, about 2,500 miles away from San Francisco, who have a hometown connection to the Niners.
San Francisco and Youngstown remain linked through the 49ers, who have been owned by a member of the DeBartolo family for nearly 50 years. Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. established the connection in 1977 when he purchased the Niners.
York, who is married to DeBartolo Sr.’s daughter Denise, said his father-in-law kept the transaction a secret and that the family only learned about it by watching the news.
“I was doing a medical internship down at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, and a buddy of mine who was a radiology resident knew that I was a football fan and a 49ers fan. And he said to me, ‘Oh, I see that the 49ers just got sold,’ and I said, ‘Oh, who bought them?’. He said, ‘Some guy up in Ohio.’ And I checked, and it was my father-in-law.”
Upon buying the team, DeBartolo Sr. ceded control to his son, Edward J. “Eddie” DeBartolo Jr., who in less than 25 years of owning the 49ers, presided over each of the team’s five Super Bowl victories. Denise took over for her older brother and has owned the team since 2000.
She and York serve as co-chairs for the 49ers, while their son Jed, a Cardinal Mooney alumnus, is the team’s CEO. York’s love for the team runs deeper and far precedes one of the NFL’s premier organizations becoming a family business, though.
While growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, he became a fan of the 49ers in the early 1960s just as John Brodie established himself as the team’s full-time starting quarterback. His fandom evolved throughout high school and college and as he got an up-close look at the team through his family.
York attributed his two greatest memories as a 49ers fan to legendary quarterback Joe Montana. The first came in December 1980 when the Niners, who York admitted “were not particularly good” at the time, were trailing the winless New Orleans Saints 35-7 at halftime.
Staring down an embarrassing home loss to an 0-13 team, the 49ers, led by Montana in his second season, stormed back.
“We came out in the second half, and Joe started picking them apart. And he just kept picking and picking and picking,” York said.
Montana threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in the second half as the 49ers ripped off 28 unanswered to force overtime. In the extra period, kicker Ray Wersching converted the game-winning 36-yard field goal to complete the comeback.
“All I could think was, ‘The 49ers have a quarterback.’ And then Joe Montana’s legacy continued from that,” York said.
York also fondly remembers Montana’s famous game-winning drive during Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals, which also happened to be the first Super Bowl that Jed attended. York said he wasn’t sure if he could do it anymore, but his son used to be able to remember and describe every play of the 11-play, 92-yard drive.
Steve Young, Montana’s successor and the last quarterback to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory, previously lauded the familial approach established under Eddie DeBartolo. York said the family-first atmosphere is a credit to the lessons his and his wife’s parents taught them.
“In business, there’s still a boss, and there has to be structure. But you can treat people with respect. And you can treat people with love. And that carries through,” York said.
York said the current Niners, who have a chance at avenging a Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs from four years ago, are “one of the best groups” he has seen. He credited the team’s recent run of success, which includes five NFC West titles and three Super Bowl appearances in the last 13 years, to people within the 49ers organization “pulling together” toward a common goal.
A win Sunday would give York, Denise and Jed their first Lombardi Trophy since taking over the organization. Like Montana and Young before him, it would also give Purdy the opportunity to establish himself as the next great 49ers quarterback.
Regardless of the result in Las Vegas, though, York said his more than 60-year journey as a 49ers fan has been a “dream come true.”
“I would never have thought that I’d ever be associated with the 49ers, but it was wonderful when Mr. DeBartolo bought the team and Eddie had it for so many years… Now with what’s going on and with my son Jed being in charge, it’s just a joy to watch,” York said.