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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
Art Rosenbaum
November 04, 1957
Anthony J. (Tony) Morabito, 47, one of pro football's most controversial figures, died Sunday from a coronary in the second quarter of the 49er-Bear game. Morabito died, as he might have wished, in his 50-yard-line seat in the lower press box at Kezar Stadium. In 1952, Morabito suffered a severe heart attack. The stocky, graying 49er owner, once a hearty, stay-up-later and go-anywhere type, was ordered to slow down. His doctor, William O'Grady, advised him "to get out of football," but Morabito said, "I'll take my chances."
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November 04, 1957

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

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X-RAY FOR LAST WEEK'S GAMES

 

Pts.

Yds.
Rush.

Yds.
Pass.

Pass
Comp.

Browns

17

162

42

5-12

Redskins

31

147

107

6-8

Steelers

6

107

227

14-28

49ers

21

94

102

13-21

Packers

24

48

229

11-22

Rams

35

224

133

12-16

Cardinals

7

103

54

4-13

Giants

14

158

166

19-30

Eagles

0

70

0

4-13

Bears

17

103

202

15-31

Colts

21

152

169

16-31

Lions

17

88

220

23-44

Anthony J. (Tony) Morabito, 47, one of pro football's most controversial figures, died Sunday from a coronary in the second quarter of the 49er-Bear game. Morabito died, as he might have wished, in his 50-yard-line seat in the lower press box at Kezar Stadium. In 1952, Morabito suffered a severe heart attack. The stocky, graying 49er owner, once a hearty, stay-up-later and go-anywhere type, was ordered to slow down. His doctor, William O'Grady, advised him "to get out of football," but Morabito said, "I'll take my chances."

After '52, Morabito's personality seemed to change. He seemed to draw the 49ers unto himself and was extremely sensitive to critical appraisal of the team. He accused the L.A. Rams of "the dirtiest game in football." He chased Co-owner Fred Levy of the Rams around the L.A. Coliseum locker room, searching for a fight; he called NFL Commissioner Bert Bell "the quintessence of nothing." Morabito's "list" of sports-writers and radiocasters he felt were unfair numbered at least two dozen, off and on.

Morabito's players, however, found him kind and thoughtful. "People outside didn't know Tony," said Joe Vetrano, a former 49er. "He never forgot a 49er."

Coach Frank Albert, bawling in the dressing room after the 49ers had pulled out the victory 21-17, said: "The 49ers could never find a better owner, even if they got President Eisenhower."

Morabito, his steel-gray hair and heavy horned-rim glasses a familiar identification in his box, keeled over in the second quarter when the 49ers were trailing 14-7. His 38-year-old brother and junior partner, Vic Morabito, rushed out of the press box, down the stands, across the field and around the goal posts to the opposite side. At the 49er bench he told Dr. William O'Grady and Trainer Henry Schmidt what had happened. The three ran back across the field to the press box. In his excitement, Vic forgot he could have stepped to the regular scout phones in the press box to summon aid.

Tony Morabito was taken in a stretcher to an ambulance outside the stadium and was pronounced d.o.a. at Mary's Help Hospital. After the news of his death reached his players at half time, they turned into a completely different team. They had been trailing the fired-up Bears 17-7; but now their defense tightened, holding the Bears scoreless, while Quarterback Y. A. Tittle directed the team to a victory and the undisputed Western Division lead.

Morabito pioneered the 49ers. He put up the money (made in lumber carrying) to start the team in the old All-America Conference in 1946. In San Francisco, pro football may be more quiet because of Tony Morabito's passing. He shunned personal publicity but always seemed to make it. He was one of a kind.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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