Alex Spanos, a self-made billionaire from Stockton who bought a majority stake in the then-San Diego Chargers in 1984, died Tuesday morning, the NFL team said. He was 95.
“We have no words that can adequately express our sadness with his passing,” the Chargers said in a statement. “We will continue to honor his legacy by dedicating ourselves to making a difference in the community and throughout our country.”
The Spanos family has owned the team since the construction magnate bought a controlling interest for $48.3 million in 1984. Last month, Forbes valued the Chargers at $2.275 billion. The family chose to move the team in 2017 to play in the StubHub Center in Carson, before joining the Rams in a new stadium in Inglewood for the 2021 season.
Spanos, who ceded day-to-day operations of the team to his son Dean in 1994, suffered dementia in recent years. His wife, Faye, died in August at 92.
The success of his A.G. Spanos Companies, which built more than 100,000 apartment units in 18 states, allowed Spanos access to celebrities and political leaders. He tap-danced for charity with longtime buddy Bob Hope, and contributed millions to charities and Republican causes.
“I’ve always set goals,” he once said. “They were always five-year goals, and I’ve been able to achieve every one of them in less than five years.”
First, though, he paid his dues.
As a youth, Spanos swept floors, peeled potatoes, baked doughnuts and did other chores seven days a week at his family’s small restaurant and bakery. When his Greek immigrant father refused to pay him more than $40 a week, he borrowed $800 in 1951 and began a catering business, selling bologna sandwiches to migrant farm workers.
Nine years later, he formed A.G. Spanos Construction Co., specializing in apartments. By 2005, he was the chairman of 10 companies and ranked No. 320 on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest 400 Americans.
It was a fortune he shared.
In 1995, Spanos created the Chargers Community Foundation, which has provided more than $13 million in grants, scholarships and monetary resources to nonprofit organizations throughout Southern California, most of it in San Diego County. One example of his philanthropy: In 2003, he donated $2 million to help residents recover from San Diego County’s massive Cedar blaze and other fires.
On the political front, Spanos was considered one of the nation’s leading backers of Republican causes.
He hosted presidents, governors and senators at his Stockton estate or the airport terminal he built in his hometown. Candidates he supported included President George W. Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Pete Wilson.
In a statement Tuesday, Wilson said, “Alex was born poor but he was a born winner, a remarkable first-generation American success story — and an outspoken and truly grateful patriot. By word and by his example, Alex insisted that Americans born to freedom earn it and never take it for granted.”
Alex Gus Spanos was born Sept. 28, 1923, in Stockton. From the time he was 8, he baked bread and cakes before school, often rising before dawn.
In 1941, he left Stockton to study aeronautical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. During World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps cadet school and became a B-29 gunner. Spanos returned to Stockton after the war and earned varsity letters in swimming and diving while attending College of the Pacific.
After making his fortune Spanos, a lifelong sports fan, bought a 10% interest in the Chargers in 1983 and became managing owner the next year.
In a statement Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: “Alex Spanos is an American success story, driven by a tireless work ethic inspired by his humble beginnings as the son of Greek immigrants. Alex became one of the country’s most successful businessmen, but he never forgot his roots and the call to help others. Along with Faye, his beloved wife of nearly 70 years, Alex’s philanthropic and civic contributions touched many lives throughout California and around the country. He was a marvelous friend and partner, whose impact on the NFL will never be forgotten.”
Spanos is survived by his four children, Dean, Dea Spanos Berberian, Alexis Spanos Ruhl and Michael; 15 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
Krasovic writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune