RIP to Patriots Legend Gino Cappelletti
In short order, the New England sports has lost iconic broadcast voices Tommy Heinsohn, Jerry Remy, and now Gino Cappelletti. And while this is by no means a competition, I’ll make the case than among the three, Gino had the greatest impact on the franchise he’ll be eternally associated with.
Looking at the Boston/New England Patriots from 2022 sensibilities, the Patriots landscape is dominated by three towering figures. Mr. Kraft, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady. The lower case father, son, and holy ghost of greatness. But if you pull back to the satellite image of the 60-plus years of the Pats existence, no one was more involved with pro football in this region than Gino.
For the first two generations who grew up with this team, Gino was synonymous with the Patriots. To give you an idea of how long he was with them, Cappelletti’s career spanned a time from their very first tryouts in 1960, to his final year in the broadcast booth in 2011. From a time where getting into pro football involved showing up with thousands of other hopefuls like “American Idol” auditions, to an age where he found himself on WBCN’s Rock Radio Network, reading ads for Trojan condoms, which were so full-body cringey, they caused life threatening spasms across six states.
Gino - “The Duke” to his friends - showed up to the tryouts hoping to land a roster spot as a defensive back. Until he heard a coaching assistant say they were looking for receivers. And in a nanosecond, he transformed himself into a wideout. And a placekicker. One whose first field goal was the first points ever scored in the AFL.
He was a star of the Pats first playoff team, in 1963. A team that, by Cappelletti’s own admission, celebrated making the postseason with party foul after party foul. And in the AFL Championship game, got carpet bombed by the Chargers 51-10, in a game that was nowhere near that close. San Diego was coached by Sid Gillman, who had just succeeded in creating the first modern passing game. The Patriots has a blitz, and nothing else. It was an F-35 dogfighting a WWI biplane. No contest. The Pats wouldn’t see another playoff game for 13 years.
But Gino responded to the humiliation by winning his league’s MVP in ‘64, on his way to making five Pro Bowls in six years. And saw it all. He played for an ownership so broke, practices were held on an elementary school playground, and teachers would chase them off the field at recess. Meetings were held in a store room, with a projector showing film on a bedsheet and players sitting on milk crates under leaky pipes. Once they had a road game where players were treated to motel rooms to relax in for a while. But only on the condition they only laid down on top of the beds, because the team wasn’t going to spring for maids to come make them up after. Any man who pulled his covers back was threatened with a $10 fine. Then there was the time a freak snow storm had Gino running late for a home game at Fenway Park. After a panicked trip though gridlock thinking he’d lost his job, he got to the ballpark to find out the tarp had been left on the infield and froze to it. The game had been delayed while a national TV audience was treated to the sight of plows pushing snow off a giant tarpaulin. Oh, and then there was the time his head coach had a nervous breakdown. Literally. He ended up committed to a mental hospital. And the coach the Patriots almost hired instead but didn’t? He went on to become Chuck Noll.
And yet, this legendary figure got to be along for the ride for all the successes of the early part of the Dynasty Era. Along with Gil Santos doing the play-by-play, they provided the soundtrack for some of the great moments in NFL history. Not the least of which was this:
I honestly believe Gino Cappelletti cried real tears after that moment. I know I did. The difference is, he earned his like no one else ever has. In the most literal sense, The Duke saw it all. And no one will his No. 20 again. Well deserved. Godspeed, Gino.