Gino Cappelletti, star of Versatile Boston Patriots, dies at 89

Gino Cappelletti was a quarterback, defenseman and kicker at the University of Minnesota. But his versatility did little to appeal to NFL teams, and he was ignored in the 1955 league draft.

He played semi-pro football in Canada, was dropped from the Canadian pro team, and was signed and later dropped by the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

In the summer of 1960, Cappelletti begged to try out for the Boston Patriots, one of eight teams in the newly formed American Football League. Trainer Lou Saban added him to dozens of players being looked at.

“Saban was posting a list of cuts in the dorm,” Cappelletti told Sports Illustrated much later. “He didn’t have time to tell everyone in person, and after every workout we ran like hell to the dorms to see if we were going to get cut. A lot of the guys who got cut were stuck here for days, eating three meals a day and sleeping in there.”

Cappelletti lingered, and then some more.

Playing wide receiver, field goals and extra points, he scored an AFL record of 1,100 points and appeared in every Patriot game in the league’s 10-year run.

When Cappelletti passed away Thursday at the age of 89, he was remembered as one of the most popular figures in franchise history, which, like the New England Patriots, would later become an NFL powerhouse.

The Patriots announced his death but did not say where he died or give a reason.

Known as Mr. Patriot, Cappelletti has been the face of the team for six decades as a player, assistant coach and longtime radio commentator.

“We were pioneers and there was a lot of adversity and we were trying to build a team and a league,” Cappelletti said. St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2015.

The old Boston Patriots faced many obstacles and only made it to one AFL championship game, losing 51–10 to the San Diego Chargers in January 1964.

But they had outstanding players. In addition to Cappelletti, who was selected to the AFL All-Star Game five times, they had a quarterback Babe Parilli and a running Jim Nance to provoke their attack.

Cappelletti brought his career point total to 1,130 after scoring 30 points in 1970, his final season and the first year of the AFL-NFL merger. His Patriots record was not broken until December 2005 by Adam Vinatieri in first place.

Gino Raymond Michael Cappelletti was born on March 26, 1933 in Kivatin, Minnesota and grew up there. His father was a metallurgist.

As a senior at the University of Minnesota in 1954, Cappelletti was the starting quarterback in a split “T” formation, but had few passing opportunities; the team usually controlled the ball.

With a chance from the Patriots six years later, Cappelletti scored the first points in AFL history when he hit a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter of Boston’s 13–10 loss to the Denver Broncos in September. September 9, 1960, the Friday night game that preceded the other three games in the opening weekend of the season.

Cappelletti played defensively as a rookie for the Patriots in addition to field shots, but Mike Golovak, who became the team’s coach in 1961, replaced him as a receiver. Cappelletti was only 6 feet tall and weighed 190 pounds and was not particularly fast, but had learned to run on precise routes.

He won the league scoring championship five times and hit six field goals in a 1964 game against the Broncos.

Cappelletti was one of only three players to appear in every game for his team in the entire history of the AFL—14 regular season games in each of 10 seasons. The rest were George Blandaquarterback and kicker for the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders, and Raiders center Jim Otto.

Cappelletti retired after 10 seasons in the AFL and one in the NFL with 292 receptions for 4,589 yards and 42 touchdowns, along with 176 field goals, 342 extra points and four two-point conversions.

Credit…Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

Survivors include his wife Sandy; three daughters, Gina, Kara and Christina; and 10 grandchildren.

For the first three seasons, the Patriots played their home games at Boston University at Nickerson Field. In 1963 they moved to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox.

“We felt legitimate because it was a major league stadium.” – Cappelletti told The New York Times in 2012, reflecting on the AFL’s perceived inferiority complex as a serious rival to the NFL.

“But,” he admitted, “we still have a lot to do.”

To keep one team from blocking the low-seat spectators’ view along Fenway’s first baseline, both teams’ benches were placed on the same sideline in front of a temporary stand adjacent to the left field wall, known as the Green Monster. .

“It led to some crazy things,” Cappelletti recalled. “We could wander around their bench and eavesdrop on them playing.”

He spoke of a game in which the Patriots used this plan against the Kansas City Chiefs coach:

“I remember Hank Stram calling for screen passes and we shouted in our defense about what was coming.”

Jordan Allen contributed reporting.