49ers’ boss Jed York confirms rumored Purdy origin story, rejoices over Super Bowl berth

SANTA CLARA – Nobody more than 49ers CEO Jed York may be relishing the contrasting paths that quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey took as cornerstones of this season’s Super Bowl run.

York, during a 20-minute session Thursday with reporters, gleefully reminisced about how the 49ers latched onto Purdy and McCaffrey, both of whom are among five finalists for the Associated Press’ NFL MVP award.

Whether it’s Purdy’s storybook rise from the 2022 draft’s final pick or McCaffrey’s record-setting production as an October 2022 trade acquisition, both stars have huge offensive burdens when the 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on Feb. 11.

York, unprompted, is the one who brought up Purdy, going on record with a story that has been whispered in the 49ers’ background for over a year. Simply put, York confirmed that coach Kyle Shanahan was convinced he had a hidden gem as early as Purdy’s 2022 rookie training camp, even though they’d invested heavily in a Super Bowl-experienced Jimmy Garoppolo and 2021 first-round pick Trey Lance.

As York walked off the practice field that opening week of camp in early August, he recalled the following dialogue with Shanahan:

Shanahan: “We’ve got to talk.”

York: “Alright, what’s up?”

Shanahan: “I think our third-string quarterback is our best quarterback.”

York: “OK, what does that mean?”

Shanahan: “Obviously we’ve invested in Trey (at the tune of three first-round picks and a third-rounder). Trey’s doing a good job, we’re going to do everything we can, we’re not going to change that. And we’re not going to change the depth chart. I think Brock will end up being our quarterback at some point.”

That point came in December 2022, when Garoppolo broke his foot, 10 starts after replacing the injured Lance.

Trey Lance (5), Brock Purdy (13) and Jimmy Garoppolo get their work in during training camp on Sept. 1, 2022. 

York applauded how Shanahan “didn’t force” Purdy into the fray as a rookie, but, because of their preseason chat, he had hope that the 49ers’ playoff chances might stay afloat with Purdy — and Shanahan’s blunt assessment.

“One thing that owners don’t love to hear if they’ve invested money and/or draft picks or both into people, is the last pick in the draft is the guy we think is the best. That’s generally not great news,” York said. “But he’s honest. And he let it play out the right way.”

When Purdy first played, however, he was a bit erratic (4-of-9, 66 yards, one interception) in mop-up duty during a home loss in October 2022 — to the Chiefs. “I think he threw one ball into the stands and I may or may not have had some sarcastic comments for Kyle postgame,” York said with a light chuckle. “But when Brock took over last year, I think we had a calm about us.”

When the 49ers held their annual orientation for players’ families, York noticed two people intensely taking notes: the parents of a rookie drafted with the 262nd and final pick, Shawn and Carrie Purdy.

In that same game against the Chiefs, the 49ers unveiled McCaffrey, who arrived 48 hours earlier in a trade from the Carolina Panthers. York recalled that Shanahan initially was reluctant about a deal that cost the 49ers four draft picks, none of which was a first-rounder.

“He thought it was a lot to give up for a running back, and I think John (Lynch, the general manager) and I thought it was just the right amount to give up for Christian. I remember that very vividly,” York said. “Look, it’s not a pass rusher, it’s not a quarterback, it’s a good player, do we want to give up that much? And collectively it was like, ‘Do you want him to go to LA?’”

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McCaffrey went on to match an NFL record by scoring in 17 straight games (including last year’s playoff trio), and, this season, he became the first 49ers running back to win the NFL rushing title since Joe “The Jet” Perry in 1954.

Knowing the 49ers hit the jackpot with McCaffrey, York appropriately offered a gambling-related analogy, three days before the 49ers fly to Las Vegas.

“As someone who plays poker a little bit, you don’t go all-in on Six-Jack offsuit,” York said. “When you have a pair of Jacks, or Ace-King, you might not win the hand, but that’s the time you want to push your chips into the middle and I feel that’s where we were with Christian.”

Where they’re going is back to the Super Bowl, the 49ers’ third since the York family took over majority ownership in 2000 from Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who presided over the five titles they won between the 1981 and ’94 seasons, and who York said he has invited to next Sunday’s game.

“He still gets more worked up than I do,” York said.

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