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Woody Paige: You bet Babe Parilli lived a full life

July 18, 2017 Updated: July 18, 2017 at 8:54 pm
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FILE - In this 1969 file photo, New York Jets quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli poses for a photo at NFL football training camp at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Parilli, the former Patriots quarterback who starred in the team's American Football League days, died Saturday, July 15, 2017. He was 87. New England announced the death. The cause of death wasn't disclosed. (He was the backup to Joe Namath when the Jets won the Super Bowl in 1969. (AP Photo, File)

One 1977 afternoon at the end of Broncos practice the quarterbacks coach asked me if I'd ever seen a drop-kicked field goal.

"Babe, I wasn't born in 1937'' - the last time it happened in an NFL game.

"I'll bet you $25 I can drop-kick a 25-yarder in three tries,'' he said.

"Nobody can drop-kick. You're on.''

Babe called over the Broncos' three quarterbacks and said: "I got me a sucker.'' Craig Morton, the starter, laughed.

Then, Parilli, who was 47, held the football around the laces, dropped it at a tilted angle toward the pointed end and kicked.

Straight through the uprights about 30 yards.

Ten years ago Babe and I were playing partners at Cherry Creek Golf Club.

"Bet you 25 bucks I can shoot my age,'' he challenged.

"How old you now?''

"Same as the year we went to the Super Bowl."

Babe was 77. He shot 74.

A few years back at a friend's July Fourth party, Babe called me over. He was standing on a piece of tape. "Give you a chance to get your money back. Knock me off this spot.'' Babe was in his 80s, but still had a Pennsylvania steel-tough body. I couldn't move him.

"Babe, if you bet me $25 that the sun will set in the East, I wouldn't doubt you.''

When the text came Saturday morning that he had died at a medical center in Parker, it was so saddening.

Only the brightest, boldest and biggest personalities in sports earned the name "Babe'' - Babe Ruth, Babe Didrikson (who lived for years in Colorado with pro wrestler husband George Zaharias), Babe McCarthy (the late college and pro basketball coach) and Vito "Babe'' Parilli.

"I bet you I played and coached in more football leagues than anybody,'' he said to me one night at the Aurora Summit restaurant. I didn't take that bet, either. Babe played quarterback in the National Football League, the Canadian Football League and the American Football League for five teams. He was an assistant or head football coach in the NFL, the World Football League, the United States Football League and the Arena Football League.

He played for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky (and was a two-time All-American in 1950-51, finished third and fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and once was named the greatest all-time SEC QB). He played for Vince Lombardi at Green Bay. (Babe was Bart Starr's predecessor as starting quarterback.)

Babe's story was: He played golf with the legendary Lombardi before training camp and beat the coach out of a $1 bet. "Vince threw the money at me and said that was the last dollar I'd ever get from him.'' Parilli was cut before the season.

After playing twice for the Packers (he was brought back by Lombardi) and the Browns and serving as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, he went to the Ottawa Rough Riders, then joined the Raiders in the AFL's inaugural season (1960). He was traded to the Patriots the following year and was the primary starter for seven seasons - including several memorable games against the Broncos.

He was signed by the Jets in 1968 for the last two seasons of a 16-year pro career and was Joe Namath's backup in the AFL's first Super Bowl victory over the NFL.

"I had a wild, incredible time as a player, for a poor son of a glass factory worker in the Depression.''

But his remarkable ride didn't end. Parilli would join rookie head coach Red Miller's staff in Denver in 1977 and worked in camp with Morton and another veteran - Steve Spurrier, who would be released. Under Parilli, once named Comeback Player of the Year, Morton experienced his own resurgent comeback year, and the Broncos would reach their first Super Bowl.

Babe also coached Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh and would become the only person to coach with three Denver franchises - the Broncos, the Denver Dynamite indoor football team (as head coach) and the Denver Gold USFL team (as Morton's offensive coordinator). Babe also worked for the Commerce City government, and his former wife, and son, reside in the Denver area.

Lamentably, Babe will miss Miller's induction into the Broncos Ring of Fame, and the 40th Super Bowl team reunion. The Broncos had 10 coaches then (five are alive) and 25 now.

In 1978 Parilli worked with a young Broncos' intern assistant - Bill Belichick.

Parilli, who was 87, spent the final 40 years in Denver. "Once I got here, I never wanted to leave,'' he told me in our last conversation.

Babe was the best. He lived a life. You bet.

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