Gino Cappelletti, a former Gophers football standout who went on to star for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League, died Thursday at his home in Wellesley, Mass. He was 89.
A Keewatin, Minn., native, Cappelletti was a versatile player for the Gophers from 1952-54, originally serving as a backup to All-America selection Paul Giel. Cappelletti, nicknamed "Duke," kicked extra points, converting on 31 consecutive PATs. He scored three touchdowns as a receiver in 1952, and as a senior in 1954, he became the starting quarterback and helped the Gophers to a 7-2 record.
After his Gophers career, Cappelletti played in Canada for five years, interrupted for two after he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Because of his versatility as a kicker and a wide receiver, his career took off with the Patriots in 1960. He earned All-AFL honors five times and was the league's MVP in 1964. During that season, he caught 49 passes for 865 yards and seven touchdowns and made 25 of 39 field-goal attempts and all 36 of his PATs, leading the league in scoring with an AFL-record 155 points. He scored a Patriots-record 28 points on Dec. 18, 1965, against the Houston Oilers.
Cappelletti, Jim Otto and George Blanda were the only players to play in every game in the AFL's 10 years. Cappelletti led the league in scoring five times and completed his career in 1970 as the AFL's career leader in points (1,100) and made field goals (170). He caught 292 passes for 4,589 yards and 42 TDs in his career.
"I did not miss one game in 10 years," Cappelletti told the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman in 2018. "I did not miss playing in one game in 10 years. It's just lucky. I never got injured enough to keep me out of a game, and I was a starter every game that we played."
Cappelletti also served as a Patriots broadcaster from 1972-78 and 1998-2011. He was the Patriots special teams coach from 1979-81.
The Patriots issued a statement from team owner Robert Kraft on their website:
"My heart aches after learning of Gino Cappelletti's passing this morning. For the first 51 years of this franchise's history, Gino contributed as an all-star player, assistant coach and broadcaster. You couldn't be a Patriots fan during that era and not be a fan of Gino's. The Patriots have had many iconic, fan-favorite players over the years. Gino was the first. I remember watching him play in 1960 and throughout his career.
"He was one of the AFL's biggest stars, becoming the first Patriots player to earn league MVP honors and retiring as the league's all-time leading scorer. He became the second player in franchise history to earn Patriots Hall of Fame induction, and I will always believe he deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As great of a player as he was, he was an even better person and storyteller. On behalf of my family and the entire Patriots organization, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Gino's wife, Sandy, their three daughters, Gina, Cara and Christina, and their 10 grandchildren, as well as the many others who will be mourning his loss."
Funeral arrangements, the Patriots said, are pending and will be announced later.