Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The football world lost an icon over the weekend with the passing of the legendary Vito ‘Babe’ Parilli. The veteran of the NFL, AFL and CFL played 18 professional seasons before moving on to a lengthy coaching career. Parilli’s Denver ties ran deep, as a quarterbacks coach for the Broncos from 1977-79, as head coach of the Denver Dynamite of the Arena League from 1989-91 and then as a resident of Parker in his final years.

Jim Saccomano, the retired vice president of corporate communications with the Denver Broncos, worked with Parilli during his time with the organization and became friends with with the Rochester, Penn. native. Saccomano joined Gil Whiteley on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 this week to remember Parilli.

Babe Parilli was a great guy,” Saccomano told Whiteley, “and sometimes, when somebody is great guy, if he’s also terrific at doing something like being a player, it’s kind of hidden. Like it’s hard for John Elway to just be good ol’ John Elway because people look and say, ‘IT’S JOHN ELWAY!’ Well similarly, Babe Parilli, before there was Elway. [Before] Montana. Before Namath. By the way, Namath’s boyhood hero, unequivocal hero, was Babe Parilli because they grew up in the same area.

Parilli played his collegiate ball at Kentucky under Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, and was the No. 4 overall pick of the 1952 NFL Draft by the legendary Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers.

“People don’t realize Babe finished third in the Heisman once, fourth in the Heisman another time. Kentucky has gone to three big bowl games ever and he was the quarterback for all of them. He was so humble. He was just a great guy,” Saccomano said.

As a coach with the Denver Dynamite, Saccomano remembers a conversation with Parilli about a future Hall of Fame quarterback who was flying under the radar in the Arena League.

“When he was an Arena League coach – I mean it’s the Arena League, right? You’re just playing. Now, the Rams have signed Trent Green from Kansas City as their quarterback. The Rams are awful, they were always awful. This was before the championships,” Saccomano remembered. “They had finished 4-12 and they signed Green. Boom, preseason game and he’s out for the season. I’m saying to Al King and Babe – Al King is long time publicist – ‘You know, the Rams, it’s a shame, already their season is done.’ Parilli comes back and says, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry much about the Rams. They have this young guy that plays quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers. He’s going to be terrific.’ And I thought, ‘Are you insane?!’ [It turns out] it’s Kurt Warner.”

Parilli’s longest tenure as a player was with the Boston Patriots. Now, when Tom Brady has set a Patriots record, it was often bettering one of Parilli’s marks.

“The top wide receiver for the Patriots was Gino Cappelletti – also Italian American,” Saccomano said. “The Patriots radio announcer, when they would score a touchdown would say, ‘That’s grand opera! Parilli to Cappelletti.’

In the small world of pro football, Saccomano and Parilli crossed paths in Denver with the coach who will be synonymous with Brady’s success.

“You know I called Stacey James of the Patriots, a dear friend and mentee of mine, who was the VP, vice president and he said he would be sure to let Bill Belichick know [about Pirilli’s death] because Belichick, above all else maybe, is a great student and lover of the game and Babe Parilli would mean something to Bill Belichick. Actually, we are on the same staff together. In ’78 Babe Parilli, I was with the Broncos, Bill Belichick was with the Broncos. That was quite a group here in ’78 frankly.”

Listen to the full conversation with Saccomano, including how The Immaculate Reception fits into his story, in the interview below…

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Catch Gil Whiteley every weekday from 11a-12p on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup.