A franchise rich in tradition and success spanning several decades, the San Francisco 49ers are one of the pillars of the NFL. Since 1977, when her father purchased the team and became the owner of the 49ers, Marie Denise DeBartolo York and her family have been integral pieces that have helped shape the organization and the NFL into what it is today. With Jed York serving as president, the 49ers are once again on the cusp of greatness.
Who is the owner of the San Francisco 49ers?
As the owner and co-chair of the 49ers, Marie Denise DeBartolo York presides at the head of the table. John York, her husband of nearly 44 years, serves as the current co-chair. John is also the chairman of the NFL’s International Committee and sits on the league’s Audit and Business Ventures Committees.
In December of 2008, John and Denise announced that Jed, their son, would become team president and operating head of the franchise while they would become co-chairpersons.
Denise’s father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., purchased the organization for $13 million in 1977. Following the purchase, he gave the team to his son Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.
Under Edward, the franchise became a juggernaut. After a 2-14 season in 1978, he made two moves that helped reshape the team and the NFL. The 49ers hired Chargers offensive coordinator Bill Walsh as head coach and drafted Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana. The rest was history.
Controversy with ownership
Legal issues were what drove DeBartolo Jr. away from the team. He was suspended in 1999, having pled guilty for failing to report felony extorsion. DeBartolo Jr. gave up his ownership stake in 2000, transferring it to his sister Denise. He has not been directly involved in the NFL since. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2016.
Jed York, the son of Denise and John, has been involved with the team after leaving his job as a financial analyst for Guggenheim Partners at their New York City offices. He was initially a director of strategic planning for the 49ers before being promoted to vice president of strategic planning. In 2008, Jed became president of the franchise, with his parents transitioning to co-chairmen.
The 49ers are not the only professional franchise the York family has shaped
In 1978, DeBartolo Sr. purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL and established Denise as the owner and president of the team.
In 1991, she made history, presiding over the 1990-1991 championship season, becoming just the third woman to serve as the president of a Stanley Cup-winning team. It was also the last season the family was involved with the team. Denise sold the Penguins to assist the DeBartolo Corporation, which faced challenges in the aftermath of the real estate collapse of 1987.
History of the San Francisco 49ers
Few professional organizations have the history of the 49ers. Established in 1944, they are one of the oldest teams in the league. They were founded in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and joined the NFL in 1949 when the two merged.
It took until 1970 for the 49ers to win their first divisional championship. They would go on to win three in a row. But it was not until DeBartolo Jr. took over that the 49ers found the success that redefined the modern NFL.
During his 23 years owning the team, the 49ers won five Super Bowls under head coaches Walsh and George Seifert: Super Bowl XVI in 1982, XIX in 1985, XXIII in 1989, XXIV 1990, and XXIX in 1995. From 1991-1998, the 49ers averaged a staggering 13 wins per season, further cementing their legacy in the pantheon of all-time dynasties in professional sports.
In 1985, the 49ers selected Jerry Rice out of Mississippi Valley State. With Montana, they became the standard against which every QB/WR duo would be judged.
The 49ers would go on to have some success in the following years. However, it was a far cry from the dominance of the ’80s and early ’90s. It wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh took over the reins as head coach that the 49ers returned as one of the top teams in the NFL.
The Jim Harbaugh era
Hired in 2011, Harbaugh guided the 49ers to a 13-3 record in his first year, culminating in an overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC Championship. After settling a QB controversy between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers played their way into Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco came up just short, losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the “Harbaugh Bowl” as Jim’s brother John coached the Ravens. The 49ers returned to the NFC Championship in Harbaugh’s third season, making it three in a row.
Following an 8-8 regular season in 2014, the 49ers agreed to part ways with Harbaugh. He would go on to say, “I didn’t leave the 49ers. I felt like the 49ers’ hierarchy left me.”
In just four years, Harbaugh left the 49ers as one of their most successful head coaches. Until 2019, when the 49ers went 13–3 and advanced to Super Bowl LIV, they had losing seasons every year following Harbaugh’s departure.
San Francisco is now one game away from returning to the Super Bowl. If they win it all, they will tie with the New England Patriots for the most Super Bowl victories in NFL history.