As the San Francisco 49ers lurched back Sunday in the second half of a jaw-dropping NFC Championship Game revival to an almost surreal 28-24 victory, the DeBartolo York clan — uncle, sister, nephew … heck, the entire huge, loving, united family — transformed another precious Super Bowl opportunity for this hallowed NFL franchise into a Norman Rockwell portrait.
This is what Jed York wanted on the makeshift stage inside the raucous visiting locker room: The NFC’s George Halas trophy first went to his colorful uncle, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Eddie then handed it to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.
Jed, the franchise’s innovative young CEO and president, took the trophy last, and the next step toward Super Bowl XLVII was officially under way.
“How can you NOT just love that?” bellowed 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who caught five Colin Kaepernick passes for 106 yards, one of those the quarterback’s only TD throw. “This is really a big family and we did this as a family.”
The passing of the Halas Trophy became the bridge from DeBartolo’s unprecedented five Super Bowl championships as the 49ers colorful owner, directly to his sister and nephew, the 49ers’ current matriarch and the team’s daily curator. A new Lombardi Trophy, they hope, is on its way.
“It’s just … it's family,” said Jed York, his eyes red with tears of pride, and joy. “We wanted to make sure we showed that Eddie won five Super Bowls, and that’s unheard of. He was the best owner from the time he started (1977) until the time he finished (23 years later).”
“The 49ers are a family, whether it’s the DeBartolo York family, whether it’s the entire organization. We take care of each other, and this was a special day.”
Eddie DeBartolo, who is a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the second consecutive year, has had a direct role in guiding his nephew’s path , both as a hands-on owner and an NFL mover and shaker at age 31. A new 49ers stadium is being built in Santa Clara, and that is testament to York’s business acumen.
But Eddie’s presence also keeps Jed’s mind focused on the franchise’s storied heritage. Who were Sunday’s honorary team captains for San Francisco? DeBartolo, Charles Haley — another Hall of Fame finalist — and beloved longtime defensive end Bryant Young.
“Thank God for my son,” said Denise DeBartolo York, who admitted she nearly went mad in the fourth quarter, as the game swung wildly back in the 49ers’ favor amid Atlanta’s deafening roar inside the Georgia Dome.
“He asked me, ‘Is it OK, can we have Eddie, Bryant Young and Charles Haley?’” Denise said of Jed’s request last week. “Of course! It brought it full circle. It really did. It’s extremely emotional.”
And Eddie D? Always emotional and prone to grandiose gestures, DeBartolo huddled with Jed privately on Saturday night in Atlanta. He had some important things he needed to pass on to his nephew.
1. A pair of gold, football-shaped cufflinks, a gift originally given to Eddie in 1981 — the season the Joe Montana-led team beat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI. Those cufflinks came from the 49ers’ founding family, the Morabitos.
"Think of that connection, that tradition," Jed said, showing them off with pride. "These are just amazing."
2. An 8x10 framed photo Eddie has kept on his wall since that inaugural Super Bowl run. In it, five-year-old Jed is standing alongside Eddie DeBartolo Sr. Jed is holding a sign.
“Dear Uncle Eddie, We love you. Congratulations and we love the 49ers.”
“It's been on my wall 30 years. My dad and Jed are in that picture,” said DeBartolo, choking back his own tears. “And I gave it to Jed, and I put my own note with it.
Eddie's note read, "Dear Jed, Now it's your turn. Love, Uncle Eddie”
With that, Eddie began to cry.
Said Kaepernick, “To see that family extend their love to all of us, that just makes all of this seem really special. I feel like they love me.”
This is how the DeBartolo Yorks do it.
“It’s tradition. Everyone throws the word ‘dynasty’ out there, but I don’t know about dynasties,” DeBartolo said. “But you know what it is? It’s a tradition that (Jed) worked so hard to get.”
Jed York hired general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, and together they kept this team largely intact. The surprise group that made it to the 2011 NFC Championship Game but fell to the New York Giants got another crack at it. They also had the guts to hand the ball to Kaepernick in Week 11, and let the high-octane read-option offense explode into playoff lore.
DeBartolo stood off to the side as the 49ers’ locker room celebrated, and he gushed in awe of what he saw from the front office on down.
“Jed stays in the background,” Eddie D said proudly. “He’s done that all year and he did that tonight.”
Sort of. York was front and center as 49ers’ players hugged and congratulated him afterward because, well, this win was — yes — a family affair.
As the 49ers clawed out of their 17-0 first half deficit, York cradled his infant son, Jax, for comfort. “I wasn’t feeling great,” confessed York, “so I picked up Jax and held him, the whole way down, until we scored. He just put me at ease. I just felt good. I felt then we could come back and win.”
Oh yes, they did.
“This is the culmination of many, many years,” DeBartolo said, wiping his eyes. “They’re my family. And they’ve done a really good job. It’s one more game, but so what?
“It’s just the Super Bowl.”
And that’s one game this family knows very, very well.