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Sacco Sez: Farewell to George Pernicano, a great Charger

Thursday's game against the Chargers marked the Broncos' first ever visit to San Diego in which George Pernicano did not attend the game.

Pernicano passed away peacefully Oct. 6 at the age of 98.

And until the very moment of his death, he had missed just two Chargers games ever — both of which were road games — and he never missed a game played in San Diego.

When the Chargers struggled in Los Angeles during their inaugural American Football League season in 1960, it was George who organized four other San Diego businessmen and pushed Barron Hilton to bring his franchise south to San Diego.

George only owned seven percent of the team at that time, and that percentage went down to three percent as time went on, but his presence was as dominant as it was warm.

The Chargers became San Diego's first major league pro sports team in 1961, but the Chargers had to work hard to keep up with the gregarious personality of their minority owner.

He was known for his famous handlebar moustache and his landmark Italian restaurant in the Hillcrest section of the city. George's place was "Casa di Baffi," a rough translation from Italian meaning "House of the Moustache."

He was always there, and not just greeting his guests as they entered. George often worked the kitchen, but he never failed to come out and greet a party.

For many years, every pro football public relations man took his traveling sports writers out the night before the game, and in San Diego "there is no place else you would want to go," as now-retired Denver Post beat man Joe Sanchez once said, than the Casa di Baffi.

In fact, since George was always in the press box at the following day's game, if some of the writers had not gone the night before, he would sidle up to them and say, "Where the heck were you last night? The other guys were all at my restaurant."

And George was always there, fiercely proud of his family (as his quick reference to pictures would attest), his Chargers and his beloved San Diego.

Even the food at the press box reflects upon George's impact. At halftime the team serves pizza, as it has for decades. Until George closed the Casa, the pizza always came from the Pernicano ovens and fed decades' worth of hungry scribes taking a few minutes away from their game notes.

After he closed Casa di Baffi, by the way, he was as stubborn about refusing to sell or develop the site as he always had been about decling to sell his minority interest in the Chargers, despite the potential of enormous profits.

His love for the Chargers was deep and true, and was never about money.

The Chargers shoot off a small cannon on the sideline at the corner of the end zone whenever the home team scores a touchdown, and there was a time when George fired the cannon. Why not, as he already owned part of the team and cooked for it as well.

He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1996.

George Pernicano was never more than a small minority owner of the Chargers, but no one has ever been bigger representing their team, and never in a prouder manner.

This was a real gentleman, absolutely all class and plenty of it.

Rest in peace to one of the greatest Chargers ever.