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.
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.”