Vito “Babe” Parilli, who led the Green Bay Packers to a comeback victory in the first game ever played at what is now Lambeau Field, died July 15 in Denver, Colo.
Parilli played for the Packers from 1952 to 1953, and again from 1957 to 1958. In all, he played 15 NFL seasons. He was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame in 1993 and served as Joe Namath’s backup in 1969, his final season, when the New York Jets won Super Bowl III.
Although Parilli played extensively in his four seasons with the Packers, it was always in a job-sharing role. The highlight of those years was when he threw the game-winning touchdown pass in a 21-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sept. 29, 1957, in the Dedication Game of what was then Green Bay City Stadium.
With 8:21 remaining and the Packers trailing 17-14, Parilli teamed with end Gary Knafelc on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
“Babe was running for his life on the far left side, and he just threw the ball into the end zone,” Knafelc said in an interview for the book, “The 25 Greatest Moments in Lambeau Field History.”
“I was on the left side and came across. He saw me over there, and we always had a deal with Babe. We yelled, ‘Vito, Vito, Vito.’ … That’s when he saw me, and he threw the ball behind me.”
Parilli had replaced Bart Starr in the second quarter with the Packers down, 7-0, and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to end Billy Howton for the team’s first score.
Over the next two seasons, Parilli and Starr shared the quarterback duties.
“Bart was very consistent,” Knafelc said. “Babe was a little more flamboyant. He could run around, scramble and that kind of thing. They were two entirely different types of quarterbacks. Parilli was a little more athletic.”
Parilli played collegiately at the University of Kentucky under Bear Bryant and was a consensus All-American in 1950 and ’51. He was fourth in Heisman Trophy voting as a junior and third as a senior. In 1982, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Packers selected Parilli with the fourth pick in the 1952 NFL Draft.
In his first two-year stint with the Packers, Parilli shared the quarterback duties with Tobin Rote.
Parilli fulfilled an ROTC obligation and entered the U.S. Air Force on July 16, 1954. Three weeks later, the Packers traded the rights to Parilli and Bob Fleck, who also was in the service, to Cleveland for quarterback Bobby Garrett, the No. 1 pick in the 1954 NFL Draft; tackle John Bauer, another first-round pick that year; defensive back Jack Miller and tackle Chester Giarola.
After spending two years in the service, Parilli joined the Browns in 1956 and shared starts with Tommy O’Connell and George Ratterman.
In April 1957, Parilli was traded back to the Packers as part of an eight-player trade that also sent Garrett back to the Browns.
Parilli competed with three other veterans – Lamar McHan, Starr and Joe Francis – for three roster berths in Vince Lombardi’s first season as coach, but was cut on Sept. 15, 1959.
Parilli played with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League that season and then signed with Oakland of the newly formed American Football League in 1960 and backed up Tom Flores.
Parilli joined what were then the Boston Patriots in 1961 and served as their starting quarterback for most of the next seven seasons. In 1963, he led them to the AFL championship. Parilli finished his career with the Jets in 1968 and ’69, playing sparingly.
Parilli passed for 22,681 yards in his pro career, including 3,983 with the Packers.
Parilli served as an assistant coach under Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh from 1971 to 1973 and then jumped leagues to become head coach of the New York Stars of the World Football League.