Remembering Gino Cappelletti, the AFL’s top scorer and the Pats’ first star: Buckley


If you’re a lifelong Patriots fan and would like to remember the late Gino Cappelletti, consider visiting Boston University’s Nickerson Field over the next few days and let the nostalgia sink in.

It was at Nickerson Field on September 9, 1960, when the Patriots played their first game in the newly formed American Football League. The place was called Boston University Field at the time – and before that, Braves Field, home of National League baseball club Boston – and it was there that Cappelletti provided the first points in the history of the franchise when he threw a 35-yard pitch. goal against the Denver Broncos.

Yes, the Pats lost that day, 13-10. But Gino, who was 89 when he died Thursday, was still proud only for an organization that delivered touchdowns by the likes of Steve Grogan, Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady, and Super Bowl-winning kicks by Adam Vinatieri, he was the first to put points on the board.

But if you’re interested in putting football aside for a moment – that is, if you want to remember the male – you are invited to take a long, reflective look at the clock atop the Cambridge Savings Bank building in Harvard Square.

Let me explain to you. Two years ago, while working on a play for Athleticism during the Patriots’ inaugural season in 1960, a phone conversation with Gino’s wife, Sandra, took a delightfully unexpected turn when she began to talk about how she had met her future husband.

Let’s start here: Her name was Sandra Sadowsky at the time, and she worked for a food brokerage firm owned by Vincent Quealy and Bob Crane, the latter Brighton state official who would one day become more famous as treasurer. of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. . Crane was also a sports enthusiast who, in years to come, would date Bobby Orr and Carl Yastrzemski, which is central to this story.

Crane, Quealy, and Sandra Sadowsky were having lunch one day at The Elbola, a sports-themed restaurant of the era located on Beacon Street, about a mile from Boston University Field and about half a mile from Fenway Park. Cappelletti also happens to have lunch at Elbola, and guess what: he noticed Sandra.

Gino also noticed Larry Brown, owner of The Elbola and a Patriots fan long before it was all the rage, was talking about it with Crane. Inquiries were made, Gino to Larry Brown, Larry Brown to Bob Crane, Bob Crane to Sandra Sadowsky. A phone number was passed the other way, from Sandra to Crane, Crane to Brown, Brown to Gino.
In her conversation with me two years ago, Sandra recalled her first phone conversation with Gino:

Gino: “Hi, my name is Gino Cappelletti and I play for the Patriots.”

Sandra: “Who are the Patriots?”

They agreed to meet for lunch at The Elbola, which Sandra didn’t consider a date. They then made plans for a real date. Since she was taking night classes at Harvard Extension School, she asked Gino to meet her at Harvard Square.

She told him to meet her “under the clock tower”. In other words, opposite Cambridge Savings Bank, right in the middle of Harvard Square.

“I worked days and went to school at night,” Sandra told me. “I imagined myself marrying a professor. Soccer? I had never been to a football game. I had no interest in it.

“Pro athletes weren’t on my radar,” she added. “I was totally ready to dislike it.”

So what happened?

“It was this very modest young man from Keewatin, Minnesota,” she said. “We never even talked about football. He spent the evening talking about his immigrant parents, who came to this country from Italy, and how he grew up in northern Minnesota, 200 miles north from Minneapolis.

“For lack of a better word, he just charmed me, really charmed me, by being very different from what I had expected. And I guess the rest is history.

They married a year later. They had three daughters and 10 grandchildren.

One way or another, Gino Cappelletti worked for the Patriots for the rest of his life. He played in each of the Patriots’ 140 regular season games during their AFL days, and he ended his career as a member of the NFL Patriots in 1970.

He was the all-time leading goalscorer in AFL history. He led the AFL in scoring three out of four seasons. He was the AFL MVP in 1964. However, Gino Cappelletti should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is not. I have written about this before and you can read it again here.

Today, I think of the neat, well-groomed young man who waited for Sandra Sadowsky under the clock tower in Harvard Square. I don’t know what kind of outfit Gino was wearing that night, and Sandy couldn’t remember except to point out that he was well dressed.

Of course he was. Because he’s the Gino Cappelletti known to Patriots fans during the many years he worked alongside the late Gil Santos in the Patriots radio booth. He looked exactly like the future college professor Sandra Sadowsky once believed was coming into her life, always dressed in a smart blazer and tie, pressed trousers and, often, a sweater vest. Her hair was combed back, every strand in place. His glasses added to his professorial demeanor.

Sandra was in the radio booth at the New Orleans Superdome, behind Gil and Gino, on February 3, 2002, when Vinatieri threw the field goal 48 yards in Super Bowl XXXVI. Final score: Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17.

After so many years of bad football, bad stadiums and bad karma, after decades of scheming, selling rumors and relocations, the Patriots were finally champions. And Gino Cappelletti, who was there from the start, was able to see it happen. Just like the old Sandra Sadowsky.

“He told me afterwards that he was thinking about all the guys who played with him in the 60s and how it all started in 1960,” she said. “It was back when there was no money and they were hanging sheets to watch game movies. Now they were Super Bowl champions, and Gino remembered how far they had come.”

You’ll be reading a lot about Gino Cappelletti’s footballing exploits over the next few days. But if you want to celebrate this spectacularly kind and decent event malehop on the red line and take a ride to Harvard Square.

(Photo: Focus on Sports/Getty Images)


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