THE AFL 1960–69: A RETROSPECTIVE
Gino Cappelletti Was the AFL’s All-Time Leading Scorer and a Well-Dressed Man
The Boston Patriot great was a receiver, a kicker, a team leader, and he had a wardrobe that was the envy of the whole league
Not only was Gino Cappelletti the highest-scoring player in the 10-year history of the AFL, there are some who say he could have doubled as a fine clothier catalogue model.
Cappelletti won five AFL scoring titles between 1961–66, doubling as a receiver and placekicker. He scored 42 touchdowns, kicked 338 extra points and made 170 field goals for an even 1,100 points, 164 more than runner-up George Blanda scored for Houston and Oakland.
And once Cappelletti was through scoring, he would don the league’s best-looking duds, “The most beautiful wardrobe in sports,” Patriots coach Mike Holovak used to say.
One night in 1961, Cappelletti hosted a post-game party after the Patriots game against San Diego. Chargers running back Keith Lincoln showed up, and at the end of the night, he walked out with the nicest pair of shoes in Cappelletti’s jam-packed closet.
Cappelletti got wind of the theft, and as soon as the Patriots arrived in San Diego for the season-ending game that season, he phoned Lincoln in reference to the shoes. Lincoln did not deny the incident and without skipping a beat said, “I’ll buy you a new pair, Duke, I’ve worn these out.”
Cappelletti was one of the AFL’s great success stories. He had been a blocking back at the University of Minnesota, and upon graduation, he spent five unsuccessful years trying to break into the NFL.
In 1959, he was earning $80 a week as a bartender in his brother’s Minneapolis club and playing in a city touch football league when he heard that the AFL was starting operations.
“I had just about given up my hopes,” Cappelletti said. “The AFL gave me my final chance to make it.”
And he made it. Cappelletti became one of only three players — Blanda and Jim Otto were the others — to play every week of the AFL’s existence, a total of 140 games in 10 years. In fact, on Sept. 9, 1960 when Boston and Denver met in the first AFL game, Cappelletti’s 35-yard field goal in the second quarter was the first score in the league’s history.
“At the time I didn’t have the luxury of thinking I had made history by scoring the first AFL points ever,” said Cappelletti. “We didn’t have much time for history. We were concerned about surviving. I knew that if I messed up that first kick, I might not get a chance to try another.”
Cappelletti began his Boston career as a defensive back, but he was too slow-footed to cover the league’s slick receivers, so coach Lou Saban switched him to wide receiver because he had good hands.
Cappelletti wasn’t a deep threat, but he ran precise routes, caught the ball when it came his way, and he was not averse to blocking downfield for Boston running backs such as Larry Garron and Jim Nance.
His primary asset, though, was his right foot.
Among his scoring titles, he set the league record for points in 1964 with 155 including one game against Denver when he six field goals.
In 1965, the scoring crown came down to the final game of the season, and Cappelletti — despite being dogged by the flu — trailed Buffalo’s soccer-style kicker Pete Gogolak by 11 points. The day before, Gogolak had been blanked, so the door was open for Cappelletti and with the help of his teammates, he produced a remarkable 28-point effort during a 42–14 victory over Houston.
‘‘In the huddle in the first quarter he leaned over and told me, ‘Babe, don’t be looking for me, these guys are playing me tight, throw to someone else,’’’ recalled Patriots quarterback Babe Parilli.
Cappelletti, always the team player, said at the time: ‘‘I knew the guys were conscious of the points situation. But I just wanted Babe to call his normal game and not give any special attention to me.”
Parilli chose not to listen to the advice, throwing scoring passes of 26 and 57 yards to Cappelletti, and Cappelletti also kicked four field goals and four extra points.
That 28-point day still stands as the Patriots’ single-game scoring record, and his 42 career touchdowns are still tied for eighth-best in team history.
Cappelletti, who was the color analyst on Patriots’ radio broadcasts from 1980 to 2012, was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1992, and he is also a member of the AFL’s all-time team.