Tony Morabito

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Anthony James "Tony" Morabito (January 12, 1910 – October 27, 1957) was the founder of the San Francisco 49ers.


Following his graduation from the University of Santa Clara he had a moderately successful lumber hauling business in San Francisco, California during the late 1930s and early 1940s. He realized, however, that air travel would make coast-to-coast NFL rivalries feasible. [1] 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.

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. [1] 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 Ernest 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. [1]

The team eventually played their first game in San Francisco's Balboa Park on August 24, 1946. The AAFC folded at the end of the 1949 season and three of its teams joined the NFL for the 1950 season [1] [2] Morabito was seen as controversial by some, but throughout his tenure, the players supported him. [3]


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. [3] 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. [1]

After Tony died, majority control of the club passed on to his widow Josephine, and to his brother Victor after most of the remaining partners from the lumber business sold their interest after the 1946 season. Following Victor's death in 1964, Victor and Tony’s widows, Jane and Josephine, retained control of the 49ers until 1977, when a new team owner, Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. of Youngstown, Ohio took over. [1] Josephine Morabito-Fox was one of the first women ever to hold a majority ownership in a professional sports team. [2]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Founder: Tony Morabito". Retrieved 2020-10-10.
  2. 1 2 Schwartz, Stephen (1995-08-25). "Josephine Morabito Fox -- 49ers Ex-Owner". San Francisco Chronicle . Retrieved 2012-10-15.
  3. 1 2 "Tony Morabito, The Autocrat Of The San Francisco 49ers, Ran His Team With A Belligerent Disdain For Outsiders. But He Loved His Team, And Last Week He Died As He Would Have Wished—watching Them Take The Division Lead". Sports Illustrated . 1957-11-04. Retrieved 2012-10-15.