George Pernicano’s handlebar mustache was studied by Joe Namath in the 1960s. Photo via talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com

Updated at 4 p.m. Oct. 6, 2016

Chargers minority owner George Pernicano, a longtime San Diego restaurateur, died Thursday at 98, the team announced.

Pernicano helped bring the Chargers to San Diego from Los Angeles in 1961 and was one of five people who bought a small percentage of the then- American Football League franchise.

“George was more than a Chargers icon — he was a San Diego institution,” said Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos.

“Everyone in NFL circles loved George and he loved being around the team and the players,” Spanos said. “He was always upbeat and fiercely proud of this team and his handle-bar mustache was famous as his calling card around the NFL. Our hearts go out to his family and everyone that had the good fortune to know George. He will be missed.”

Pernicano, inducted 20 years ago into the team’s Hall of Fame, and his wife, Isabelle, opened Pernicano’s restaurant in 1946 in Hillcrest and later started Casa di Baffi.

The restaurants closed in the 1980s and the buildings have been vacant ever since. Their fate rests in part on a community plan update that’s winding its way through the city approval process.

Isabelle died in 2012 after 72 years of marriage that produced two sons, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

George Pernicano was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, into an Italian family of 11 boys and one girl. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

According to talesfromtheamericanfootballleague.com, Pernicano’s association with the Chargers began when he first moved to San Diego and bought a small stake in the team.

“Since that time, Pernicano has remained very closely connected to the team, and has attended every Chargers game, home and away, and manages to watch a fair number of practices as well. Now into his 90s, Pernicano can still be seen in a private box at Chargers games that he shares with one-time team owner, Barron Hilton,” Todd Tobias wrote in 2012.

Pernicano came from Detroit in the 1940s, he continued, “and according to him, introduced pizza to San Diego. He slowly began opening his Pernicano’s pizza restaurants, as well as a classier Italian eatery called Casa di Baffi, which translates into House of the Mustache.”

He died at his El Cajon home with his family by his side, and services are pending, according to the Chargers.

Reflections and condolences:

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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