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Tony Morabito pioneered the 49ers bringing to San Francisco its first major league professional team. He put up the money to start the team in the All-America Conference in 1946. "People outside didn't know Tony," said Joe Vetrano, a former 49er, "he never forgot a 49er." Morabito died on October 27, 1957 in his 50-yard-line seat in the press box at Kezar Stadium.  He was 47. His doctor, William O'Grady, advised him to get out of football but Morabito said, "I'll take my chances."

Anthony J. "Tony" Morabito was the founder of the San Francisco 49ers. Born in San Francisco in 1910, Morabito learned the game of football on vacant lots in the North Beach sector and had some success later as a halfback at St. Ignatius High School. He went on to play for the University of Santa Clara as a freshman in 1927 but his playing career ended after a shoulder injury.

He received his diploma in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression. He got a job driving a truck for $80 a month while his father, an immigrant from Italy, had built up a flourishing ship’s service business on the San Francisco waterfront, only to see it fold in the wake of the depression years.

Following his graduation from the University of Santa Clara he had a moderately successful lumber hauling business in San Francisco during the late 1930s and early 1940s. He realized, however, that air travel would make coast-to-coast NFL rivalries feasible. In 1944, after several years of rejection of expansion applications by the NFL, Morabito led a visit to the NFL in Chicago. During that meeting Elmer Layden, the league commissioner and one of the legendary Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, who was presiding was dismissive of Morabito's requests. According to Ruffo, Layden then said, "Well, sonny, you better go out and get a football first and then come back." Tony was furious, Layden called him 'sonny'!

Following that meeting, Morabito and his partners walked across the street to see Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune who was trying to organize a rival league, the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). On June 6, 1944, the first meeting of the AAFC was held in St. Louis. Morabito agreed to form a franchise in San Francisco, with the AAFC set to start play after the end of the war.

Tony, his brother Victor P. Morabito, and his partners in the Lumber Terminals of San Francisco, Allen E. Sorrell and E.J. Turre became the founding owners of the soon to be San Francisco 49ers. Al Ruffo did the legal work while serving as the assistant coach to Lawrence T. "Buck" Shaw's. Santa Clara's famous "Silver Fox", Shaw was paid the then fabulous sum of $25,000. The team eventually played their first game in San Diego's Balboa Park on August 24, 1946. The AAFC folded at the end of the 1949 season and its teams joined the NFL for the 1950 season. 

On October 27, 1957, Tony Morabito died of a heart attack while watching the 49ers play the Chicago Bears at Kezar Stadium. Having suffered a coronary occlusion in 1952 Tony had been living on "borrowed time". Doctors citing the dangerous, high emotional factors of football urged him to get out of football. The 49ers were losing, 17-7 when a note "Tony's gone" was passed to the coach. They stormed back for a 21-17 upset victory.

Following Victor's death in 1964, Victor and Tony’s wives, Jane and Josephine, retained control of the 49ers until 1977, when a new team owner, Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. of Youngstown, Ohio took over. The sisters-in-law chose to remain in the background of the team's operations and left the day- to-day management to Lou Spadia, who was then president of the club. The women were considered to be more knowledgeable about football than many men. As of 2011, the 5% of the team still owned by the Morabito family is worth close to $50,000,000.


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