Saturday, July 15, 2017

Babe Parilli, 1930-2017



Former NFL QB Babe Parilli dies

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
July 15, 2017

Vito “Babe” Parilli, a native son of Rochester, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for 1960, died Saturday at age 87. His highlight reel would come out of New England, where he played for the then-Boston Patriots from 1961-67, but before then, he made many stops along the way during his 15-year NFL and AFL career. He also spent a season as an assistant coach for Chuck Noll as the Steelers quarterbacks coach in 1973.

The Green Bay Packers drafted him out of the University of Kentucky in 1952. His total time in Green Bay spanned 1952-1953, and 1957-1958. He later played for the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders, throwing for more than 25,000 yards in a career that included two stints in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders. In his late 30s, Mr. Parilli was traded to the New York Jets, giving the 1969 Super Bowl champions two quarterbacks from Beaver County — Mr. Parilli as backup to Joe Namath, who told the Post-Gazette two years ago that Mr. Parilli had been his boyhood idol. “I can remember walking past the Army Navy store on my way home to lunch when I was in the fourth or fifth grade and checking out that Hutch helmet with Babe’s autograph on it,” Mr. Namath said.

Mr. Parilli was an All-American and two-time Heisman Trophy finalist while playing for Bear Bryant at Kentucky in 1950 and 1951.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2003:

Babe Parilli had yet to take a snap for Vince Lombardi. But the Green Bay quarterback already had a hunch things probably wouldn't work out. Parilli, Green Bay's first-round selection in 1952 and a member of the Packers for four seasons between 1952-'58, went golfing with his new coach before the 1959 campaign. On that day, Parilli made one gigantic mistake: He beat Lombardi.

“We were only playing for a dollar,” the 74-year-old Parilli, who's now retired and living in Denver, said Monday. “But afterwards, he threw the dollar at me and said, ‘That's the last dollar you'll ever make from me.’ And before the season started, he cut me.”

Parilli admits there were other factors involved, most notably a young quarterback on the roster named Bart Starr. But if anything, it allowed Parilli the opportunity to go elsewhere and flourish. And that he most certainly did, moving to the American Football League and quarterbacking Oakland, Boston and the New York Jets between 1960-'69.

By the time Parilli's career was finished, he had thrown for nearly 23,000 yards and 178 touchdowns, highlighted by the 1964 season in which he threw for 3,465 yards and 31 touchdowns for the Boston Patriots. “I had a good career,” Parilli said. “It was a good run.” Parilli wouldn't have minded if his run in Green Bay had lasted longer.

In his rookie season in Green Bay, he threw for 1,416 yards along with 13 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as the Packers went 6-6. The following year, Parilli threw just four touchdowns vs. 19 interceptions and Green Bay dipped to 2-9-1. Afterward, Parilli left to fulfill an Air Force commitment and Packers head coach Gene Ronzani left after he was told not to return. “I loved Gene,” said Parilli, who wore three different uniform numbers (10, 15 and 16) during his time in Green Bay. “I think Gene would have been great in today's game because the players loved him. We just didn't have any talent.”

Parilli was traded to Cleveland and played there in 1956. He returned to Green Bay in 1957 and had some shining moments in a Packer uniform. He threw the first touchdown pass in the new City Stadium (later named Lambeau Field) to Gary Knafelc in 1957. And in 1958, he outperformed Starr, throwing for 10 touchdowns and 1,068 yards.

Parilli also sensed the Packers were beginning to put together a foundation for future successes. Although Green Bay went 4-19-1 under Lisle Blackbourn and Scooter McLean in 1957-'58, several of the key cogs who would produce five world championships in seven years were being acquired. And Parilli felt Lombardi was walking into an awfully good situation. “It was hard back then to build a team,” Parilli said. “Today, you've got free agency. But back then, it took time for your talent to come around. And I really thought (Lombardi) came into a good thing. He made some good moves, but he also came into a good situation.”

Parilli could also tell his situation in Green Bay wasn't a particularly solid one. Although Parilli quarterbacked Lombardi's first victory — a 24-17 pre-season triumph at San Francisco in 1959 — he could tell he was squarely in Lombardi's doghouse. “He was kind of a sore loser like all of us were, I guess,” Parilli said of Lombardi. “I remember a game where we came down on the opening drive and got to about the 10-yard line. I took a timeout and went and asked him what to do. And he never called a play. He said, ‘Run it, throw it, whatever.’ I went back to the huddle and (Paul) Hornung asked me, ‘What'd he say?’ And I said, ‘You're going to get the ball and run it into the end zone.’ And that's what he did. He scored on the play.”

Maybe that was the first indicator that Parilli had a future in coaching himself.

When he retired from the game following the 1969 season, he began an extremely successful coaching career. Parilli served as the quarterbacks coach for Pittsburgh and Terry Bradshaw in 1972-'73, he was the quarterbacks coach for Denver in 1977 when the Broncos went to the Super Bowl and he later tutored Steve Grogan in New England.

Parilli was also a head coach in the World Football League in 1974-'75 and a head coach in the Arena Football League from 1981-'93.

“I think the year we went to the Super Bowl in Denver was probably the highlight,” said Parilli, who worked with the Broncos from 1977-'79 and has lived in Denver ever since. “I had a great time in Pittsburgh working with Bradshaw, and I really enjoyed the Arena League. But by the time I was done, I had been in six leagues as a player and a coach. I had had my fill.”

Despite his untimely golfing victory over Lombardi, Parilli has never gotten his fill of Green Bay. He returns every year for Alumni Weekend, stays in touch with several of his former teammates and looks back fondly on his time in the NFL's smallest city. “I loved my years there,” he said. "Every year when I go back, I stop and look at the old house I used to live in. Green Bay was good to me.”

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