Namath: Why Babe Parilli was first QB who got my attention

Former Patriots’ quarterback Babe Parilli has died at the age of 87, the club announced Saturday, and, just a hunch, but there aren’t a lot of football fans out there who remember him.

And that’s a shame.

Because before there was Tom Brady … before there was Drew Bledsoe … and Steve Grogan … and Jim Plunkett … before there were any of them at quarterback for the Patriots,  there was Vito “Babe” Parilli. And he wasn’t just good. He was marvelous.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In fact, he was an All-America at the University of Kentucky, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and, later, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Then, as quarterback of the AFL Boston Patriots from 1961 through 1967, he threw for 16,747 yards and 132 touchdowns and was among the top five quarterbacks in a raft of categories, including yards passing, touchdowns passing and rushing yards.

What’s more, in 1964 he threw for a league-high 31 touchdowns, a Patriots’ record until Brady broke it in 2007 with a then-NFL best-ever of 50.

So Babe Parilli should be remembered.

And he will … by a former teammate and Super Bowl MVP … and I’m not talking about a former Patriot. Nope, I’m talking about Hall-of-Famer Joe Namath of the New York Jets. Parilli was his backup in 1968, the season the Jets stunned Baltimore in Super Bowl III, and the experience … as Namath remembered it on a 2014 Talk of Fame Network broadcast … was unforgettable.

Namath mentioned Parilli after he was asked on the program about John Unitas, and whether, as a young man growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa., he aspired to be like another western Pennsylvania great — i.e., J.U. His answer surprised us.

“Johnny U, was certainly someone I looked up to,” said Namath. “As a young quarterback, God, you had to admire Johnny Unitas. He was sensational. He was great. He was a leader on and off the field. He was terrific. (But) the first quarterback I paid a whole lot of mind to was Vito ‘Babe’ Parilli from Rochester, Pa., four miles down the river from Beaver Falls.

“Heck, when I was in the sixth grade, I’d be going up to the five-and-10 at lunchtime to see my mother … she was working there … and I left school and walked one block. And in that one-block walk, there happened to be an Army and Navy store. And I’d stop at that store … on the outside … and look in the window, and in there on the shelf was a gold football helmet made by Hutch. I remember the name was on the back of it — Hutch. And Babe Parilli had signed it.

“And, damn, don’t you know that we traded for Babe Parilli. And in ’68 in that locker room, we’re sitting together side by side through training camp, everything else, and I couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to be sitting beside … and having a teammate … in Babe Parilli. Boy, that was cool.”

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  1. Sports Fan
    July 15, 2017

    Great read, as Always!

    The Great Vito “Babe” Parilli was an Excellent Backup QB for the Oakland Raiders and their starting Quarterback Tom Flores in 1960

    10/10/1960 Coach Eddie Erdelatz: Flores and Parilli are the
    “best one-two quarterback combination in football.”

  2. July 15, 2017

    Nice piece, Clark. Babe was originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1952 and played with the Pack for four years in the ’50s. The guy who was the scouting guru for the Pack in that decade was Jack Vainisi. If there is ever a wing for scouts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Vainisi should be a slam dunk inductee. In the same draft that he drafted Babe, he also drafted Billy Howton, Bobby Dillon and Dave “Hawg” Hanner. Vainisi also drafted players like Bill Forester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitscke, Jerry Kramer and Boyd Dowler…all before Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Back to Babe, he didn’t light the world on fire in the NFL, but he sure was magnificent in the AFL. The same thing happened with Len Dawson.

    • July 15, 2017

      My bad. I misspelled Ray Nitschke in the post above. That’s almost unforgivable, seeing that I wrote at Packer Report (the publication No. 66 founded) for several years.

  3. Bill Crum
    July 17, 2017

    Another great player from Western Pennsylvania and Beaver County. Babe’s mother was a neighbor of my sister Barb in Rochester. When I went to visit her I threw footballs with his brother August who was known to throw a football close the length of a football field. We always talked about Babe and the rest of the football talent from Beaver County. I also new Joe Namath as he was friends with the New Brighton QB and frequently came to NB. Sad day that our legends are getting old and passing. The surely will be remembered.

  4. July 17, 2017

    “Babe” played for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Kentucky. That team won the SEC Championship and received a couple votes for the National Championship. It is amazing the QB talent that came out of Western Pennsylvania. Looking for the next great one. Rest In Peace Babe!

  5. July 17, 2017

    Correction, that KY team was named National Champions by a couple publications, not just received votes. Count that one and Coach Bryant has seven National Championships.

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