NFL

49ers owner John York thrilled with resurgence

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP)

A giddy John York stood on the field at Candlestick Park the first Sunday of December only hours before the 49ers would clinch their first playoff in nine years.

The longtime owner knew the franchise could be headed for big things this season under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, yet even he realizes the resurgence has been remarkable for a team that is headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2002.

The 49ers beat the St. Louis Rams 26-0 on Sunday to win the NFC West and lock up a playoff spot.

''It's fun. If I'd have known it was this much fun we would have done it 10 years ago,'' York said. ''First, if you think you can predict the future, that's a joke. But at the same time we felt like we had the talent in most areas of this team to win the West and to do well. But we hadn't done it until Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff got here, so there's a combination of things that came together.''

York beamed while shaking hands with fans, posing for photos and handing out pins in his typical pregame ritual before San Francisco hosted the St. Louis Rams in a potential NFC West clincher.

Energized by the resurgence of his franchise - on the cusp of capturing its first NFC West title and playoff berth since 2002 - York on Sunday praised general manager Trent Baalke, Harbaugh and once-embattled quarterback Alex Smith for their roles in the turnaround for a team that went 6-10 last season.

Afterward, York's team president son, Jed, wanted everybody to know this is a great first step - but the expectations remain higher. He shared his thoughts in a celebratory locker room, where black ''NFC West champions'' hats and white T-shirts waited for players at their lockers when they arrived from the field.

''We've hit our first milestone by winning the division,'' Jed York said. ''I don't know that it's sunk in for everybody yet. This isn't the last hat and T-shirt that I want. There's a long way for us to go and there's a lot of work for us to do here. We can't let up.''

Hundreds of cheering fans stayed in their seats near the tunnel where players go to the locker room, chanting ''Let's go Niners!''

The Yorks hired Harbaugh away from nearby Stanford on a $25 million, five-year deal in January to replace the fired Mike Singletary. There were huge expectations right away, and Harbaugh delivered in surprising fashion.

''It's been absolutely exciting, wonderful. We're very pleased with the way the players have performed, Coach Harbaugh and his coaching staff, and everything that Trent Baalke has done with bringing players both in the draft and free agency,'' John York said. ''Trent took some shots about no big names. Nobody's complaining about the defensive backs now.''

Regarding bringing back Smith this season for a second chance, York gives the credit to the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick for making good on the opportunity and to ex-NFL quarterback Harbaugh for his guidance in the process.

''I think all of us bought into that, but I have to say that that was all Jim Harbaugh,'' John York said. ''That was his quarterbacking experience, his previous coaching experience. Alex, I think, owes a lot to Jim, and Jim now to Alex.''

Tagged: 49ers, Alex Smith

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