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Babe Parilli, Namath's 'Super' Backup, Dies at 87

Came to Jets in 1968 for 2 Years After Top College Career, 13 Seasons in NFL & AFL


Vito "Babe" Parilli, Joe Namath's able, ageless backup on the Jets' 1968 Super Bowl team and '69 playoff squad, has died. He was 87.

Parilli entered the NFL as Green Bay's first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 1952 draft out of Kentucky, where he QB'd the Wildcats under Paul "Bear" Bryant and was an All-American and two-time Heisman Trophy fnalist. He played with the Packers and Browns and the CFL's Ottawa Rough Riders in the Fifties, then came to the fledgling American Football League, where he played on the Raiders' inaugural AFL team in 1960 and then with the Patriots.

Finally, at the age of 38, he came to the Jets after seven seasons as the Patriots' starting QB in a trade on July 20, 1968, in which the Jets sent QB Mike Taliaferro to Boston, and settled in behind Namath (who of course also played under Bryant at Alabama and who, like Parilli, grew up in Western Pennsylvania) as the '68 season unfolded.

During the regular season, Parilli, wearing the No. 15 uniform that he sported with the Pats, completed 29 of 55 passes for 401 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions for the Jets. He came on in relief of Broadway Joe in the Dec. 1 home game against the Dolphins, throwing three fourth-quarter TDs, two to Don Maynard and one to Bake Turner, in the Jets' 35-17 win, and relieved Namath the following two weeks in wins over Cincinnati and at Miami as the playoffs beckoned.

Parilli even appeared briefly on offense in the Super Bowl III triumph over the Baltimore Colts. Namath, en route to his efficient MVP performance, ominously came out late in the third quarter shaking his right hand, the result of a hard hit from Colts RDT Fred Miller. 

Parilli fired a hurried incompletion for George Sauer before Jim Turner kicked his second field goal out of the Babe's hold for a 13-0 lead. Jets fans' fears melted away when No. 12 was back under C John Schmitt to take the next offensive snap and finish the game.


As an aside, Babe was considered an outstanding holder and was nicknamed "Goldfinger" for his role in Jets kicker Jim Turner's then-record 145 placement points, plus 19 more in the Jets' two postseason games.

In 1969, Parilli played even less for the Green & White, completing 14 of 24 for 138 yards, two TDs and one INT. He was placed on the reserve/retired list in August 1970.

For his Jets career, Parilli played in 28 games, completing 43 of 79 passes for 539 yards, seven TDs and three INTs. For his pro career, his line was 189 games (101 starts), 3,330 passes, 1,552 completions, 22,681 yards, 178 TDs and 220 INTs. He was an AFL All-Star for the Patriots in '63, '64 and '66.

After his playing career, Parilli in 1974 was the head coach of the New York Stars in the short-lived World Football League, and also coached the WFL's Chicago Winds and six teams in the Arena League. 

He is a member of the University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

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