A lot of things happen during Thanksgiving that are remembered. Sometimes someone gets a bit too much eggnog and does something boneheaded referenced for years. Sometimes someone brings a dish that is remembered for how delicious it was. For fans of the San Francisco 49ers, there’s one thing still not forgotten. An infamous tweet now looked at as sparking the beginning of the end. The end of the tenure of Jim Harbaugh.
There were a lot of rumors leading up to the 49ers Thanksgiving game against Seattle. A game played in Santa Clara in the recently opened Levi’s Stadium. Almost all of these rumors were about the growing rift between 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke. It all started in the offseason with some very shaky reporting regarding the 49ers attempting to trade Harbaugh to Cleveland. The details of the trade, or who began discussions, were not known at the time. All that was known was a conversation concerning a trade with Harbaugh, a coach who took the 49ers to three straight NFC championship games (one leading to a Super Bowl loss) each of his three seasons, was discussed in some shape or form. The 49ers denied the reports, with owner Jed York going as far as calling out Pro Football Talk on Twitter and calling the reports false.
While the whispers rumbled against the ground the 49ers stood on, most didn’t notice the growing tremors and how gradually severe they became. Mentions of the difficulty in the front office with Trent Baalke were brought to the forefront, along with a few leaks on the culture of the locker room were all quickly dismissed by the team, the front office, and the fans.
The Thanksgiving game marked the first game against Seattle for 2014. The 49ers had lost several games that year for a plethora of reasons, some due to controversial officiating, others due to a roster getting hit hard by the injury bug, resulting in a porous offensive line. The Seahawks had not beaten San Francisco in San Francisco while Harbaugh had been head coach, and all games in Santa Clara had been competitive.
The game was caught in the cacophony of boos, probably only eclipsed by Harbaugh’s own screaming on the sideline. To add insult to injury, the Seahawks were invited to have turkey—as was the standard on the Thanksgiving broadcast—at midfield. The feast was set up right on top of the 49ers seal, something many fans took great offense to.
But the greatest offense or person offended in all of this was 49ers owner Jed York, thumbing out a tweet seen by millions after the game:
Thank you #49ersfaithful for coming out strong tonight. This performance wasn't acceptable. I apologize for that— Jed York (@JedYork) November 28, 2014
The tweet’s response was one-sided. Fans sided with Harbaugh and demanded Baalke’s firing. Others asked for offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who had grown very unpopular with the fans, to go with him.
Nothing happened. Yet.
However, as it was said by Harbaugh later, this game was the game where he was told he would not be returning as head coach. While nothing was official, the lethargic play of the team in the following weeks signaled that their coach may be out the door.
This tweet, essentially, sunk the whole ship.
To further add to the Thanksgiving chaos and the upset of the fans, Baalke’s daughter Cass crafted this gem shortly after. It would be quickly deleted after the media got hold of it.
The slight rumbles turned into volcanic eruptions. The front office was sick of Harbaugh’s personality, Harbaugh was sick of the front office dictating his team, and the fans were sick of the 49ers going from playoff locks the last three years, to circling the drain in .500 hell. Every week there was a new leak on the locker room culture or how the 49ers were sick of Harbaugh. Everyone got in on it; journalists, radio hosts, the state of the 49ers organization. One once tightly sealed and esoteric front office was now on full display, with Harbaugh painted as very difficult person to deal with. York’s tweet about the performance was one that was, and continues to be mocked by fans.
Following the conclusion of the season, the 49ers didn’t even wait 24 hours to draft a press release announcing Harbaugh’s departure, releasing one hours after the 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals and Harbaugh took the podium for the last time. Harbaugh promptly left to coach his alma mater, the Michigan Wolverines. The very next day, York would mention the Thanksgiving game and dodge questions on his disappointment or the tweet.
The 49ers went 8-8 in Harbaugh’s final season. A total number of wins that has finally been matched when combining the win totals of the 3 seasons following his departure. In those three seasons, there has been a different coach at the helm.
While a lot pre-empted the exodus of the Harbaugh regime—one that brought a winning culture back to a city that had began to sink to new depths in mediocrity—the tweet that signaled the end was one that won’t be forgotton. While York has tried to right the ship with the hiring of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, few have forgotten the chaos of his tweet in the middle of the season, signaling the end of one of the best things the 49ers had going for them.
Every Thanksgiving there’s some incident you remember. This one made the turkey of any fan in 2014 taste bad.