The New England Patriots may be one of the most successful organizations in the NFL and all of American professional sports, but that didn't happen overnight. As a charter member of the American Football League in 1960, the league's life was as turbulent as the 60s themselves. If it weren't for a $400,000 loan from Ralph Wilson (owner of the Buffalo Bills), the Oakland Raiders, and likely the entire league would've folded. The Patriots called four different stadiums home before getting a bare-bones ballpark of their own in Foxboro Stadium in 1971.
One of the then Boston Patriots pillars was an undrafted WR/K from the University of Minnesota named Gino Cappelletti, who passed away today at 89 years old. Cappelletti scored the first-ever points in a league that would eventually become the American Football Conference in 1970. During his playing days, he was a five-time AFL All-Star, four-time All-Pro, and won AFL MVP in 1964. He was the American Football League's all-time leading scorer, and a New England Patriots Hall of Famer. If you're a Patriots fan and don't know this name it's time to do some homework.
With advances in training, diet, preparation, not having to have a second job in the off-season, etc., it's easy to forget about the founding fathers who may "have not made it in today's game." Cappelletti started as a defensive back before moving to wide receiver or end/flanker as it was known in his era. He was also a straight on kicker in an era where those duties were usually held by lineman. Still, without those who laid the foundation, the game wouldn't be where it is today, and few players made a more significant impact in the 10-year history of the American Football League than Gino Cappelletti. I believe he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the AFL.
Not only was Cappelletti the league's all-time leading scorer, but he's also one of just three players, along with Raiders center Jim Otto and Oilers/Raiders QB/K George Blanda, to never miss a game during the league's 10-year run.
I'm a big need sounds to fall asleep guy, and one of my go-to documentaries is a five-part series on the AFL from 2009 called "Full Color Football." I literally fell asleep to it this morning. I pass out to it at least once a week, and the second episode does a great job breaking down the foundation of the Patriots and, specifically, Cappelletti's role with the team. His stats could've been even better, but Patriots coach Mike Holovak infamously would take him out on 3rd downs to "rest" for a potential field goal attempt.
I'm so grateful I grew up during the peak of the Patriots double-dynasty, but without players like Gino Cappelletti who helped popularize the Patriots in New England (prior to 1960, most people in NE were New York Giants fans), who knows if the team is still around today? Like many AFL stars, Cappelletti struggled to make an NFL roster, bouncing around in Canada and semi-pro leagues before making the most of his opportunity with a new league. Cappelletti's Patriots only made the AFL Championship Game once, a 51-10 blowout loss in 1963 to the San Diego Chargers but were contenders throughout the first half of his career finishing 2nd in the AFL East (and with a better record than their lone playoff season) in 1961, '62, '64 and '66. Gino was the Patriots first true star in a league full of larger than life personalities like Ernie Ladd, Joe Namath and Ben Davidson. Known for his great wardrobe, many knew Gino as "The Duke."
After retiring in 1971, Cappelletti went on to have a stint as a special teams coach with the Pats from 1979-81, but is best known for his run as the color analyst for the Patriots Radio Network alongside the late Gil Santos from 1988-2012. Death is always sad, but 89 years is a pretty good run. What a life well lived for a former bartender turned pro football star. R.I.P. Gino Cappelletti.