There has been a lot of talk about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his connection to Minnesota with his grandparents living in Browerville. But there’s another great connection to Minnesota and the Patriots with “Mr. Patriot” himself, Gino Cappelletti.
Cappelletti, the Keewatin, Minn., native who played in college for the Gophers, was on the first Boston Patriots team in the American Football League back in 1960 and played there for 11 seasons before retiring after the 1970 season.
His career in New England was one of the greatest in team history.
With the Gophers, Cappelletti kicked extra points for coach Wes Fesler, but back then the team didn’t attempt field goals. From 1953 to ’54, Cappelletti connected on 31 consecutive extra points. He was also a punter as a senior in 1954. He scored three touchdowns as a receiver in 1952, while still attempting PATs.
During his senior season, Cappelletti became the starting quarterback and helped the Gophers go 7-2.
It was that kind of multipurpose production that made Cappelletti appealing to the Patriots, even if he was never drafted, playing in the CFL for a few years after leaving Minnesota.
“We played in Providence, Rhode Island, for the first game,” Cappelletti recalled. “I remember Bob Mac [Gophers halfback Robert McNamara] and me and a couple of other players played flag football, or whatever you might call it. You know what happened, it was Bob Soltis and three or four guys that came with me to Boston.”
There were 160 players that tried out for the Patriots and six of them were former Gophers: Cappelletti, McNamara, Soltis, Dick Blakley, Bobby Cox and Gordy Holz.
Only Cappelletti and Soltis made the Patriots. Holz and McNamara both made it with the Denver Broncos in 1960.
“I did not miss one game in 10 years,” Capelletti said. “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.”
In his 11-year career as a receiver and kicker, Cappelletti made 342 of 353 extra points and connected on 176 of 333 field-goal attempts. He also caught 292 passes for 4,589 yards with 42 touchdowns. He completed his only pass, for a 27-yard touchdown against the New York Titans in 1961.
He remained the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer until 2005, when he was passed by Adam Vinatieri.
Cappelletti was a five-time All-Pro and the AFL MVP in 1964, and he had his No. 20 retired by the Patriots along with being inducted into their Hall of Fame. Not bad for a kid from the Iron Range.
On top of that, he served as the Patriots radio color commentator for 28 years until 2012. He called 585 games, including six Super Bowls, alongside his broadcasting partner Gil Santos. That endeared him even more to the Patriots and their fans.
Cappelletti, 83, said that these days, he still follows the team from his home in Massachusetts.
Parcells coaching tree
One of the people who Vikings coach Mike Zimmer relies on most to talk about coaching is Bill Parcells, the NFL Hall of Famer whom Zimmer talks to almost weekly during the season.
Parcells was both pragmatic and sympathetic when asked about the Vikings’ final game of the season, their 38-7 loss at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, especially with a chance to play in the Super Bowl on the line.
“I felt sorry for him,” Parcells said of Zimmer.
The legendary coach certainly can relate. He guided the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories following the 1986 and 1990 seasons. But he also knows what it’s like to suffer a loss in a big moment.
The final time Parcells made a Super Bowl was after the 1995 season with the Patriots, the franchise’s second of 10 Super Bowl appearances. New England lost to Brett Favre and Green Bay 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.
The Patriots led 14-10 after one quarter only to be outscored 25-7 as the Packers beat them going away.
Parcells said that tough losses are a part of the business.
“It happens to everyone that has ever coached,” he said.
Parcells said he didn’t know what happened to the Vikings against the Eagles. But he said what Zimmer and his coaches were able to accomplish this season, after losing their starting quarterback and running back, was tremendous.
“He overcame a lot of things,” Parcells said.
While Zimmer worked for four seasons with Parcells in Dallas, Parcells’ greatest coaching connection is with the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, the defensive coordinator on Parcells’ two Giants championship teams.
ESPN will run a feature documentary about Parcells and Belichick on Thursday that showcases the unique and sometimes strained relationship between the two. But there was no doubt in talking to Parcells ahead of the feature that he has a lot of respect for how far Belichick has come as a coach.
When asked about what has given Belichick such great longevity in the NFL, Parcells said there were a few factors.
“I coached with him for 14 years — you know I just think he knows what he’s looking for,” Parcells said. “He knows what he’s doing. He has a good support system. He was able to find a great quarterback and that guy has helped the team sustain, along with some other things.
“He has good coaches. He has everything that a good organization has, and the results speak for themselves. It has been tremendous.”
Parcells recalled that when he was first hired as Giants coach, Belichick was already on the coaching staff, and Parcells instantly had a “high regard” for him.
Parcells said a lot of the traits he saw in Belichick at the start of his career remain today.
“He studies the game. He’s a coach’s son. He grew up with football, and he loves it, and he’s very dedicated and passionate,” Parcells said. “He knows how to fit into a system, and he does a good job of acquiring the people that fit.”
Parcells was asked if having a quarterback like Tom Brady makes it easier to run a smooth system.
“It certainly helps a lot,” he said.