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He ultimately saw his goal of being part of the NFL realized in December 1949, when the AAFC disbanded and the NFL absorbed three teams, including the 49ers.When Morabito survived a heart attack in 1952, his doctor warned him that he should sell the team because of the stress involved in ownership.Mary’s, University of San Francisco, and, of course, the very successful Santa Clara.

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Another was two-way lineman Visco Grgich ’46, who became famous for his rousing pregame speeches and forearm shivers to the locker room door at Kezar.

Ken Casanega ’42 was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1942, but instead he served as a Navy pilot during the war.

Local lore has it that the idea for the 49ers was born at Ruffo’s kitchen table in his house on Second Street in San Jose, where he and both Morabito brothers gathered.

Always a football fan, Tony Morabito knew that the growth of air travel after World War II would ultimately mean expansion for professional sports.

But his time on the Mission Campus laid the groundwork for what would be his biggest impact on the Bay Area: the founding of the 49ers. While Morabito went on to build a successful lumber business, Ruffo stayed at Santa Clara, attending law school and helping to coach football under legendary Lawrence “Buck” Shaw.

At Santa Clara, Tony Morabito was teammates with another son of Italian immigrants, Al Ruffo ’31, J. An undersized but scrappy former lineman, originally from Tacoma, Washington, Ruffo was an enthusiastic presence and a tireless booster of both Morabito as well as his adopted city of San Jose.He was also convinced that the Bay Area, a hotbed for college football, was ready for a pro team.Fans packed games—especially on Sundays—for Stanford, Cal, St.Twice Morabito tried to gain entry to the National Football League but was dismissed by the commissioner of the league, which was based in Chicago.Commissioner Elmer Layden asked Tony Morabito condescending questions about where San Francisco was located and turned down Morabito by saying, “Well, sonny, you better go out and get a football first before you come back.” But Tony Morabito was stubborn.But the 49ers’ team history is intricately intertwined with Santa Clara—the city, the University, and the people—dating back to the team’s original founder, Morabito, and his younger brother, Victor Morabito ’37.Tony Morabito learned to play football on the streets of San Francisco’s North Beach, where his Italian immigrant parents had settled. Ignatius College Prep and briefly played football at Santa Clara before a shoulder injury derailed his playing career.When the rival All-America Football Conference was formed with eight teams, Morabito jumped at the chance to be involved.Ruffo set up the legal framework for the team, and the 49ers played their first season in 1946.The next few years they fared better, but they failed to make the championship game. He did ultimately coach a team to the NFL crown, however: the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960.Without question, Tony Morabito was the force behind the 49ers until his death.


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