In recognition of the start of training camp for the 50th season in New England Patriots history, our Boston Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week is one of the stars from the first decade of the franchise.
In many ways, Gino Cappelletti epitomized the early years of the American Football League. While the NFL was becoming more specialized and tougher to break into, the AFL provided former college stars with a new place to play and its “wild west” mentality allowed players to contribute in a wide variety of ways.
A college quarterback at the University of Minnesota, Cappelletti played two years in the Canadian Football League, but had not played professionally since 1957 when the AFL started in 1960.
Cappelletti signed with the Boston Patriots and immediately began to show his versatility.
Though he wouldn’t play quarterback for the Patriots, Cappelletti did just about everything else during his 11 years with the team.
He immediately assumed duties as the starting kicker and in 1960 also was a starting defensive back. He had four interceptions, including three swipes of passes by Tom Flores of the Oakland Raiders.
The following season he moved to offense and quickly became a favorite target of quarterback Babe Parilli. He led the team with 45 receptions for 768 yards and eight touchdowns in 1961.
Cappelletti led the AFL with 147 points scored in 1961, something he would accomplish five times in a six year stretch as he scored at least 113 points for six straight years. He was made the first of five Pro Bowl appearances in 1961.
The Patriots posted a winning record in five of their first seven seasons, including a 10-3-1 mark in 1964. However, their only appearance in the playoffs came in 1963 when they lost to San Diego 51-10 in the AFL Championship Game.
In 1964, Cappelletti was named the AFL Player of the Year as he scored an AFL record 155 points and also caught a career-high 49 passes for 865 yards and seven touchdowns.
Cappelletti was the consistent star for the Patriots as he was one of only three players to play in every game in the 10-year history of the AFL.
He led the Patriots in receiving four times and scoring for 10 straight seasons. His 155 points scored during the 1964 season still rank as the 10th highest single-season point total in NFL/AFL history.
Over his 11-year career, Cappelletti caught 292 passes for 4,589 yards and 42 touchdowns. He scored 1,130 points to rank as the all-time points leader for the AFL.
Still a popular figure in the Boston area, Cappelletti serves as color commentator for the New England Patriots radio network.
If you had a favorite athlete growing up that you would like to see featured as the Boston Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week, send me a nomination by e-mail.