In 1946, the city of San Francisco began to thrive in a post-World War II boom that enhanced its economic state, social diversity and area population. The West was becoming a hotbed for spirit, culture, climate, adventure and sports, in particular, football. At the time, professional sports centered around teams on the East Coast and Midwest regions, but a young owner of a lumberjack business saw the growing market for the sport of football in the Bay Area, and was ready to pounce.
A few years earlier, Anthony J. “Tony” Morabito saw the success and large fan base that followed college football powers like the Wonder Teams of California-Berkeley, the Wow Boys of Stanford, led by Frankie Albert, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco, and knew that a professional football franchise would soar in the Bay Area when the war ended.
In 1944, after Morabito’s requests to expand the NFL to San Francisco were politely rejected for a few years, he and his associates visited Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, who was organizing a new rival league, the All-America Football Conference. Morabito knew immediately he wanted a stake in the new league. The first meeting of the AAFC was held in St. Louis on June 6, 1944 – D-Day in Europe. Morabito agreed to form a franchise in San Francisco. The AAFC would start play after the end of the war.
Morabito teamed with his younger brother, Victor, and partners in the Lumber Terminals of San Francisco, Allen E. Sorrell and E.J. Turre. The group came up with the name “49ers” in honor of the miners who had rushed west for gold. They saw a photo on the side of a railway freight train of a miner firing a pistol and the franchise, name and logo were born.
In 1950, the AAFC folded and San Francisco, along with Baltimore and Cleveland, were awarded NFL franchises. It was what Morabito hoped for all along. He, Victor and Lou Spadia, the team’s general manager, went on to build what would become one of the NFL’s most celebrated teams.
The 49ers became the first major league professional sports franchise to be based in San Francisco. Since Morabito paved the way for professional sports in the West 60 years ago, the 49ers have won five NFL championships – all Super Bowls – for an NFL-best record in Super Bowl competition with no losses. San Francisco was also the first team to win a record five Super Bowls – Super Bowl XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV and XXIX. Also in the franchise’s impressive winning repertoire are five conference championships and 17 divisional championships.
From the 49ers inaugural roster of 32 players in 1946, to the teams of the eighties, to today’s modern era of salary cap and free agency, the San Francisco 49ers have played some of pro football’s most celebrated moments on the gridiron.