SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ road to Super Bowl LIV has had its ups and downs, but what owner CEO Jed York sees as the current regime’s defining moment is likely not what you’d expect it to be.
The 49ers' huge win over the Saints in the Superdome against future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees might be seen as a defining moment of the organization. The club punching their ticket to the Super Bowl by beating the Packers in the NFC Championship Game is also a moment that leaves a lasting impression.
While York greatly enjoyed both of those wins, York views a less joyous moment as the turning point of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s six-year tenure.
On Sunday, Nov. 25th, 2018, four hours before the 49ers were set to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the announcement was made that they had decided to release first-round draft pick Reuben Foster. The linebacker had been arrested the night prior to the game on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence.
The joint decision by Shanahan and Lynch not to tolerate the distraction and the alleged behavior was brought up by York as an important step in building the culture that has been so important to the success of the team.
“I think a great example is Reuben,” York said. “I love Reuben. I wish that Reuben was still here. We gave Reuben opportunities. We’ve given a lot of guys opportunities but we set our limit, and said 'If we can’t fix this, we have to move on from a talented player.'
“I don’t know that that would have been the case with every other coach or every other general manager. Not just here, but across the league because it’s hard to give up on talent. And I think that to me, is one of the defining moments of John and Kyle of being able to say, ‘This is a first-round pick in our first year’ and we moved on from it and it was hard.
“And we could have justified not moving on from it. You know there are other people that have been in worse situations than what Reuben was in but we knew where we had to be. And I think that, to me, if you look at a defining moment for those guys, I think that’s a defining moment for the culture of this team of we are ‘team first’ and we are ‘We got your back’ first.”
That “team first” attitude is very prevalent in several aspects of how the team operates. It is exemplified in how are selfless they are on the field, how it doesn’t matter who shows up on the stat sheet as long as they are winning games. And when they have lost games, there has been no finger pointing.
While that fateful Sunday in Tampa might want to be forgotten by many, it has proven to be an example of how the identity of the team was shaped into what you see today.