"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
Lou Spadia lived the classic American success story. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he found entry-level work with the 49ers in 1946. Twenty years later, he was the team president.
It all started on San Francisco's Potrero Hill where Spadia grew up playing sandlot baseball and football. After graduating from Mission High School, he joined the Navy and befriended a young naval officer named John Blackinger, who happened to be an old college friend of Tony Morabito.
Blackinger later became the 49ers first general manager. Spadia was one of the first men he hired.
"I knew how to type so Blackinger hired me," Spadia said jokingly in a 2012 interview.
In reality, Spadia did a little of everything during the 49ers formative years. He answered phones, wrote press releases, transported equipment, made travel arrangements and taped up injured players.
"We didn't know anything about running a football team then," Spadia recalled. "In the 1940s we had part-time coaches and part-time trainers. We had no equipment managers. In the first [preseason] game against the [Los Angeles] Dons, they let me come along. I thought, 'What a great job! I get to travel!' When we arrived, the trainer told me to stay with him and I wound up unloading duffle bags from the plane."
One of his most important responsibilities was selling game tickets. In the team's inaugural season, general admission tickets sold for $3. End zone seats were $1. One of Spadia's first marketing ideas was to sell seven 49ers season tickets, which went for $21, at a cut rate of $18.
"I came up with the clever slogan 'seven for the price of six,'" he said with a laugh. "We weren't real sophisticated back then."
Spadia spent most of the first season problem solving on the fly. As the first exhibition game approached, the players and coaches were ready to take the team's initial United Airlines flight to San Diego to play the L.A. Dons.
"We finally realized that we had a game coming up. We had all these uniforms and equipment and no way to transport them," Spadia said. "At a surplus store out on Market Street, they were selling old Marine Corps duffle bags for $1 each. I bought 40 of them and they became our equipment bags."
If any one man knew the inner workings of the 49ers organization it was Spadia. Team owner Tony Morabito soon realized Spadia was a valuable asset and increased his initial salary of $275 per month to $300 after the birth of Spadia's first child. The bump in salary led to increased responsibility, and Spadia soon became the club's chief contract negotiator. He gradually climbed the ladder from business manager to general manager to team president and part owner.
Spadia retired from the 49ers in 1977. Under his leadership the 49ers developed a winning culture and captured three-consecutive NFC West titles from 1970-1972.