Where Are They Now

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Where Are They Now: Joe Pagliei 

Catch Up with the Former Member of the New York Titans

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Joe Pagliei was a veteran in the truest sense of the word in 1960 when he joined the then-New York Titans (later becoming known as the Jets) in the American Football League's inaugural season. 

Four years earlier when the punter/fullback came out of Clemson, he attracted attention from teams in the NFL as well as from north of the border in the Canadian Football League.

"I got calls from the (Washington) Redskins and Green Bay (Packers), and they said, 'We're looking for a punter and a running back. So, we're probably going to call you,'" Pagliei said. "In the interim, Calgary called. Christ, I didn't even know where the hell it was.

"They offered me like 40 percent more than I was going to be making in the NFL. So, I grabbed the calendar because it had a map in there that showed all of Canada. I said, 'Calgary, holy hell, it's all the way over above Washington state.' So, I went up there (and played for the Stampeders in 1956).

"When I got home, I had letters from Uncle Sam that I had to go into the service. So, what I did was, I put a lot of tough-skin on my knees and when they examined me, I said, 'My knees are bad.' And the guy said, 'Like hell. You're going.' So, I signed up for a program called seasonal occupation.

"I was in the Armored Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky. And I'll never forget the first time they pulled a tank up in front of us and said, 'OK, get in there. We're going to show you how to drive it.' I couldn't fit in the damn thing! I said, 'Man, you got the wrong guy.' So, they said, 'You're the football player. Get the hell out of there, we're going to put you in special services.'"

Even though Pagliei had signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1957, he served two years and played for the base team at Fort Knox in 1958.

With the Eagles the following year, he was Philadelphia's last cut in 1960, the season it won the NFL championship, and immediately heard from teams in the upstart AFL.

"I received two phone calls, one from Denver and one from the Titans," Pagliei said. "So, I go up to New York the next day and signed my contract and went back to Philadelphia to get all my stuff together. The Eagles called the house and said, 'We made a mistake. Come on back in.'  I said, 'I already signed up in New York.' Plus, I got a 25 percent increase in salary going with the Titans."

Already into their regular season, Pagliei met with Titans head coach Sammy Baugh, who may have been behind the reason why he was offered more money.

"Sammy Baugh said, 'Boy, I'm glad to have you. I need a punter real bad,'" Pagliei said. "We're going out to the Midwest and we need you to punt for us.' I said, 'Fine, let's go.'"

Playing for Baugh, a Pro Football Hall of Fame legend, was full of memorable experiences on the field, in the locker room, and even in the lobby of an out-of-town bank, that Pagliei hasn't forgotten.

"Sam was a nice guy. He was very quiet, real unassuming. He always had that tobacco in his mouth, spitting and chewing," Pagliei said. "I remember we played in Houston, and I went to the locker room and Sam said, 'Here's your check.' I ran to the bank and they said, 'There's no funds in the checking account.'

"So, I went back to the hotel and called Sam's room. I said, 'Sam, this is Joe Pagliei. I'm going home.' He said, 'You can't go home, I need you.' I said, 'The check bounced.' He said, 'Oh, s---. How much do you need?' I said, '$300 or $400, just to carry me over.' So, he gave me five $100 bills.

"I'll never forget, one night Sam said, 'Did I loan you any money?' I said, 'Hell, no.' He said, 'Oh, s---, I thought I loaned you $500.' And I laughed, 'Yeah, I've got it in my wallet.' He was really funny."

What was not as fun was calling the Polo Grounds, where the Titans played for four seasons, home.

"The fan support was very, very minimal," Pagliei said. "I think if we got between 500 and 1,000, it was a lot of people. But you know what was comical at the Polo Grounds, when we turned the showers on, all this brown stuff came out. And it smelled."

A fonder and less toxic memory Pagliei has from his time with the Titans is the relationship he had with the team's owner, Harry Wismer.

"I really enjoyed being around him," Pagliei said. "One time he called and said, 'We're ready to take the (NFL's) Giants on. We can beat the New York Giants anywhere, anytime.' When he bought the team, he said, 'I want something that's bigger than the Giants in New York. And there's only one thing that's bigger and that's the Titans.'"

Following football, Pagliei embarked on a career that he actually became familiar with as a child – gambling.  

"I grew up in a little town called Clairton, Pennsylvania," Pagliei said. "We lived (in an apartment) downstairs, and on the street level floor was a gambling thing where they had pool tables and they played cards every night. And the guy wrote numbers. I used to watch these guys blow all their money and that's how I became accustomed to not betting unless you can win.

"I got a call from Al Rosen, the great baseball player for Cleveland Indians, who was the general manager at (Bally's Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City) at the time. I said, 'I'm going to go try this.' I walked in, and that's where (baseball legend) Willie Mays was working. Willie met me at the door and said, 'We're going to hire you, you know.' I said, 'You haven't even talked to me.' He said, 'Yeah, but we're looking for football players.'

"After (14 years in) the casino business, I got into the car business at Holman Lincoln Mercury in Maple Shade, New Jersey, for 15-20 years. Which I was very, very good at. I wouldn't sell a used car to anybody if it wasn't good enough for me."

Two years ago, Pagliei became an author and wrote his autobiography – Joe Pagliei: The Roast Master.

In it, he shares stories of his childhood, his football career, and his post-playing career as a casino host when he rubbed elbows with A-list celebrities and professional athletes alike. He also tells how he was a consultant for Donald Trump when the future President stepped into the casino business.

Pagliei and his wife, Rita, make their home in Mt. Laurel, NJ. They have three daughters, one son, and six grandchildren.

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