Controversial NFL team owner Alex Spanos left his mark on Chargers fans in two California cities.
Alex Spanos, a self-made millionaire who used his fortune from construction and real estate to buy the San Diego Chargers in 1984, died Oct. 9 at 95. The team announced in 2008 that Mr. Spanos was suffering from dementia, but no other details were available.
As founder of today’s A.G. Spanos Cos., closely held by his family, Mr. Spanos built more than 120,000 apartment units in almost two-dozen states and about 2 million square feet of commercial space, starting in 1960. Its projects include the Spanos Park East and West communities in his hometown of Stockton, Calif. The family’s net worth was estimated to be $2.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
He bought controlling interest in the Chargers for about $50 million from Gene Klein in 1984. He eventually bought all but the 3 percent that was held by George Pernicano.
Mr. Spanos tapped his oldest son, Dean, to help run the team. It was Dean Spanos who decided to move the Chargers from San Diego, their home of 56 years, to Los Angeles in 2017.
After then-General Manager Bobby Beathard nearly resigned following the 1993 season because of a feud over signing bonuses for free agents, Alex Spanos put Dean in charge of day-to-day operations of the team. With Beathard remaining, the Chargers made their only Super Bowl appearance, a 49-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in January 1995.
After failing for years to get a new stadium to replace the aging Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers moved to Los Angeles, temporarily relocating to StubHub Center in suburban Carson. They will share a state-ofthe-art facility in Inglewood with the Rams once it is completed.
Alex Spanos first raised the topic of a new stadium in 2000, just three years after the city expanded Qualcomm by 10,000 seats for the Chargers, touting it as being Super Bowl-quality. The stadium hosted Super Bowls in 1988, 1998 and 2003, but the city fell behind on maintenance and it fell out of the Super Bowl rotation.
Mr. Spanos wasn’t held in warm regard by many San Diego fans and was booed during a halftime ceremony to retire Hall of Famer Dan Fouts’s No. 14 in 1988. After that, Mr. Spanos didn’t participate in similar ceremonies.
During his third season of ownership, Mr. Spanos fired legendary coach Don Coryell after the Chargers started 1-7 in 1986. It took nine seasons for the Chargers to make their first playoff appearance under Mr. Spanos’s ownership, in 1992.
Steering an NFL franchise toward on-field success was a challenge for a businessman accustomed to focusing on nothing but the financial bottom line, Mr. Spanos said in a 2002 interview.
“The most significant difference of owning a team and trying to run a team, as opposed to business itself, is you have to rely on others to make it happen for you,” he said. “I always set five-year goals, and I set a five-year goal to go to the Super Bowl, never realizing that I had to rely on others to make it happen for me.”
He said it took him time to accept that, as owner, “I can’t play football, I can’t coach.”
Mr. Spanos took an unlikely road to NFL ownership.
Alexander Gus Spanos was born in Stockton on Sept. 28, 1923. His father had come to the United States from Greece in 1912 and settled in Stockton to work at a restaurant started by his cousin, according to “Sharing the Wealth,” Mr. Spanos’s 2002 memoir. He said he was named Leonidas on his birth certificate and became Alexander at his christening, when his godfather, a fan of Alexander the Great, declared that to be his name.
He began college at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., before enlisting in the U. S. Army Air Forces in 1942. After World War II, he returned to Stockton and spent two years at the University of the Pacific, then went to work at his father’s bakery.
In 1951, married and stymied in his bids for promotion and a raise beyond $40 a week, he concluded that his father saw him as “a lowly baker, a college dropout,” and he quit. With an $800 bank loan, he began a lunch-delivery service to farmworkers, starting with bologna sandwiches. He branched into providing temporary housing for migrant farmworkers from Mexico during harvest months.
With the money he made, he started buying real estate in 1956 and building residential and commercial sites in 1960.
He made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise in 1974 and was outbid in 1976 for the 49ers. He bought a 10 percent stake in the Chargers in 1982, then acquired a majority interest in 1984.
With his wife, the former Faye Papafaklis, Mr. Spanos had four children. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
Chargers owner and real estate mogul Alex Spanos, shown in 1993, started out by selling temporary housing to migrant farmworkers.
It took Mr. Spanos time to accept that, as an owner, he had to rely on others: “I can’t play football, I can’t coach.”