Calm down 49ers fans, you’ve been through this before
They’re changing around the chain of command again at the San Francisco 49ers’ headquarters. And every time that happens, it sends the Bay Area into a state of panic.
When Bill Walsh left (the first time), there was fear that the 49ers’ dynasty had come to an end. They’ve won two Super Bowls since.
When Carmen Policy took over the club’s operation in 1991, while Eddie DeBartolo returned to Youngstown, Ohio, to mind the company store, worry set in once more. The 49ers have made the playoffs every year since.
Now Policy has resigned his presidency following a heated rift with longtime pal DeBartolo. While Policy seeks a similar position, plus part ownership, with the new Cleveland expansion franchise, someone named Larry Thrailkill has arrived from the Youngstown store to fill his shoes.
And there’s the problem: Policy’s shoes are too big to fill. At least, that’s the perception one gathers from certain Bay Area media types, not to mention hard-core 49ers fans.
Policy is the master of the salary cap. Who will be able to crunch numbers with the same expertise? Policy is the silver-tongued spin doctor of the NFL. Who will supply the same articulate damage control while helping DeBartolo pull a tasseled loafer from his mouth for the hundredth time?
You want to know the answer, in either scenario? It doesn’t matter.
The 49ers are bigger than their owner or their president. They’ve become the most successful franchise in professional sports – averaging 10 wins a year since 1981 – because their locker room is more important than their front office.
If you really want to know when the 49ers will begin to fold up their dynasty, then look to the retirements, or the general erosion of talent, of quarterback Steve Young and wide receiver Jerry Rice.
When those two begin to fade or leave, then even the ghost of Vince Lombardi, brought back to Earth to save the 49ers, would prove an unsuccessful rescue mission.
The 49ers win with players, not guys in $1,500 suits. The only front-office contributors who truly affect the team work in the scouting department, headed by Vinny Cerrato.
In the 1990s, 49er drafts have produced as many misses as hits. And because Dexter Carter, Ted Washington, Dana Hall, Todd Kelly, Israel Ifeanyi – all first- or second-round picks – all flamed out in San Francisco, the 49ers’ future is questionable.
If the No. 1 pick of two years ago, quarterback Jim Druckenmiller, continues his flaky ways, does that mean NFL journeyman Ty Detmer stands to be Young’s heir apparent?
And to think the 49ers passed on Arizona State magic man Jake Plummer, whom Walsh likened to Joe Montana, to take Druckenmiller, who appeared on the Howard Stern radio show and is dating a Playboy Playmate of the Year.
So what does it matter who’s running the show in San Francisco? Policy’s salary-cap skills reached their peak in 1994, when he maneuvered to add Deion Sanders and Ken Norton to the roster, and won a Super Bowl as a result.
And there isn’t much Policy’s polished oratory could have done now to bail out DeBartolo anyway, since little Eddie is facing a possible federal indictment in Louisiana over palm-greasing ($400,000) for a riverboat gambling casino license that he was forced to give up following NFL pressure.
Thrailkill – whoever he is – will replace Policy, but no one is sure for how long. DeBartolo is as communicative these days as Salman Rushdie. Actually, Rushdie is quoted more often than little Eddie.
As bad as the 49ers’ ownership structure looks at the moment – even worse than during the Joe Thomas era – it’s the players on the field, and not in the boardroom, who will determine whether the 49ers sink or swim.
DeBartolo is fighting for control of the team with his sister Denise DeBartolo York. Little Eddie wants to trade his stock in the DeBartolo Corporation for his sister’s 49ers stock. It’s highly unlikely any transaction of this kind will take place until the sticky Louisiana matter is resolved.
No one is quite sure when that will be, or even how it will turn out. But until then, as always, ownership’s impact on the team is negligible.
Like forcing out George Seifert really made a difference.
Dave Newhouse is a columnist for the Oakland Tribune.
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