By Leon J. Radomile
After an 18 year hiatus, my beloved 49ers are back in football’s ultimate spectacle. At stake: The Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded each year to the victorious team in the National Football League championship game, The Super Bowl.
All Italian Americans can take pride in the fact that one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of sports is named after an Italian American—Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi’s Packers won three straight league championships, five in seven years, including the first two Super Bowl games in 1966 and 1967. So, from the very beginning, America’s biggest championship showdown had an Italian American flavor as Lombardi’s parents immigrated to America (Brooklyn) from Salerno (Campania) Italy.
But this year’s 47th Super Bowl could possibly be the ultimate thrill for Italian American sport fans, since the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens and the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers are both owned by Italian Americans. Just to make this a bit spicier, both head coaches are brothers and both men are sons of an Italian American mother.
Now, if you live in or around Baltimore and San Francisco, it’s obvious who you’re rooting for. But what about the rest of the Italian Americans?
First the Baltimore Ravens:
Team owner Steve Bisciotti bought 49 percent of the Ravens in March of 2000 and became the majority owner in April of 2004. In 2007, the Ravens named John Harbaugh head coach. In 2008, quarterback Joseph Vincent Flacco became the 18th overall pick by Harbaugh’s Ravens in the first round of the NFL Draft.
With all the excitement surrounding this game and the exploits of Joe Flacco in the playoffs, I wanted to take a closer look at the Ravens quarterback. What I found hit close to home. The Flacco surname is almost exclusively found in the Italian region of Abruzzo.
Of the four provinces that make up the Abruzzo region, the greatest number of Flacco’s live in the Province of Chieti. Bingo! My father’s family is from Chieti. In fact, I found six Flacco’s in our coastal home town of Ortona. I also found that Joe Flacco is from New Jersey. Well, I was born in nearby South Philly, only to move with my parents to San Francisco at age eight in 1958. So, if the unthinkable should occur, I can take solace that at least a paisani quarterback is the winner.
Oh, one last note concerning the Ravens: Eric DeCosta, with the Ravens since 2000, was recently named Assistant General Manager.
Now for my San Francisco 49ers:
Original owner Anthony J. “Tony” Morabito, after numerous rejections from the NFL, finally established a football franchise in San Francisco in 1946 in the All-America Football Conference. Morabito and his SF 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, after the AAFC folded.
The 49ers first NFL draft pick was Italian born Leo “The Lion” Nomellini, born in Lucca (Tuscany), Italy. A two-time All-American at the University of Minnesota, Nomellini played every game of his 14 seasons with the 49ers, 174 regular-season and 266 pro games in all. Nomellini, a perennial All-Pro, was named to the NFL’s All-Time Team as a defensive tackle.
Tony Morabito suffered a fatal heart attack at a 49er game in 1957. His brother Victor Morabito and his widow Josephine (one of the first women ever to hold a majority ownership in a professional sports team), took over. After Victor’s death in 1964, Josephine and Victor’s widow Jane retained control of the 49ers.
Long-time 49er executive Lou Spadia became team president. In 1977, Edward DeBartolo Jr. of Youngstown, Ohio, purchased the team. Under his leadership the 49ers won an unprecedented five Super Bowls. One of the major reasons was an Italian American third round draft pick in 1979 from Western Pennsylvania via Notre Dame named Joe Montana. This Pro Football Hall of Famer is considered among the best quarterbacks to ever play professional football, period. Other Italo 49ers of note was head coach Steve Mariucci, who posted a .594 winning percentage from 1997 to 2002.
Not to be overlooked, behind the current top rated 49er defense is coordinator Vic Fangio, with line coach Jim Tomsula and secondary coach Ed Donatelli. And throw in Mike Solari as offensive line coach for the 49er exceptional running attack.
The San Francisco 49ers are the only undefeated multiple-win Super Bowl champions. The question now, will they make it six wins without a loss?
As far as all Italian Americans beyond the states of Maryland and Northern California – who are you going to root for? Either way, you’ll be a winner!
Leon Radomile writes NIAF’s Ambassador magazine crossword Puzzles. He received a NIAF grant to translate his best selling Italian cultural compendium, “Heritage Italian-American Style” in 2001. Visit his website at http://leonradomile.com/