In the fall of 1962 the Boston Patriots, still new in the then-young American Football League, decided to hand the reigns to quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli. Replacing a multi-sport athlete as talented as Ed "Butch" Songin was a tall task for Parilli, but he was experienced, and quickly proved himself worthy. He became the first-ever franchise quarterback to the Patriots.
"It was really the first time in my career that I didn't have to split the top job with someone," he admitted in a recent interview. "Mike Holovak was the first coach who gave me that opportunity."
Carrying with him a stellar understanding of the game, gained from college-coaching legend Paul "Bear" Bryant while Parilli was at Kentucky, the Babe loaded the Patriots onto his back, leading them to five winning seasons in the seven years he spent in Boston.
"It was all about repetition with him," said Parilli of Bryant. "When you got on the field you were never in doubt about what you were supposed to do. I spent an hour a day with him calling football plays. I knew exactly in every situation what he wanted."
Armed to the teeth with offensive weapons like Gino Cappelletti, Jim Colclough, Artie Graham, Tony Romeo and running back Larry Garron, Parilli directed an exciting passing attack that set every record in the Patriots short history.
Parilli remains the team's fifth all-time leading passer with 1,140 completions for 16,747 yards, and the air attack was so powerful during that time, Parilli's average completion (14.7 yards) was longer than that of Drew Bledsoe, Steve Grogan, and Tom Brady – the four ahead of him on the all-time boards. As a whole, his playing career lasted 16 seasons.
Parilli remained connected to the game after he finished playing, as a coach and executive. He worked with the Steelers, Broncos and Patriots before associating himself with a number of teams in the expired World Football League. After the WFL collapsed, Parilli began working with teams in the Arena Football League. He currently resides in Denver, Colo., where he spends as much time playing golf as he can.
"I came here in '77 as a coach with the Broncos," he said. "This seems to be the best place I've been, other than the Acton/Concord (Mass.) area. But the weather's so great here."
His son, Vance, also lives in Denver, so it's not just the sun and golf that have kept him in colorful Colorado. He's no longer involved with the game of football.
"It's time to let other people do it and enjoy my life," he said. "I enjoyed all of it. I never felt I had a job. I looked forward to all of it, playing and getting knocked around."
Happily, Parilli says there's no chance of him becoming a Broncos fan, even though he now calls Denver home.
"I'm a golfer now. I love playing golf. I don't go to the games. I go when the Patriots come to town and sit in the booth with Gino [Cappelletti] and Gil [Santos]. I usually just watch it on the tube, because I like to watch all the Sunday games at once, switching back and forth during the commercials and everything. I think there are too many commercials and penalties in football now."