The Patriots have been blessed with many great football players throughout their 60-plus year existence, but none was a bigger gentleman than Gino Cappelletti.
Cappelletti died on Thursday at the age of 89, leaving behind an impressive legacy as a husband, father, grandfather, player, coach, broadcaster and all-around ambassador of the game.
His on-field exploits are numerous as the AFL's all-time leading scoring with over 1,000 career points in his 11 seasons with the Boston Patriots from 1960-70. He also spent time as a coach in the organization, heading up the special teams from 1979-81. Shortly thereafter he worked as a color analyst calling the games on radio, first alongside Dale Arnold and then as the long-time sidekick of his fellow Patriots Hall of Famer Gil Santos.
But as impressive as those accomplishments were, they pale in comparison to the man he was. Cappelletti, known affectionately as The Duke, was a gentleman's gentleman. He was a pleasure to talk to regardless of the topic, but especially when regaling with stories of the old AFL days and the Patriots difficulty in keeping up financially.
As part of the Patriots travel team during much of Gino's run, I had the pleasure of listening to him often during various bus rides bouncing from airports to hotels across the league. One time in Buffalo, he explained how the team was instructed not to sleep under the sheets the night before a Bills game in order to avoid being charged with fees to clean the rooms. As amazing as that sounds in today's multi-billion-dollar sports world, Gino told those stories in a lighthearted manner that in no way indicated the voice of a bitter ex-athlete. Instead, he often did so with a smile on his face, knowing his audience appreciated the storytelling.
Whether it was working on a crossword puzzle – an exercise that pretty much included the whole bus as he would often seek the aid of Santos while the rest of us did our best to help – or preparing for that evening's dinner, Gino was a pleasure to simply be around.
Buffalo seemed to put Gino in a particularly upbeat place. It was home to one of his all-time favorite restaurants, Billy Ogden's, and he loved to host a sizable Patriots contingent there whenever possible. He was friendly with the establishment's owner, and in turn they treated him like royalty. I was lucky enough to join the crew on a couple of occasions in the early-2000s and watching Gino in his element was almost as good as the tremendous food we enjoyed.
It was truly special to enjoy the company of humble man who accomplished so much in his full life, and one who will be sorely missed by anyone who had the good fortune of meeting him.