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Hall of Famer Babe Parilli Passes Away
Babe Parilli, a 1982 College Football Hall of Fame inductee from Kentucky who quarterbacked the Wildcats from 1949-51, passed away July 15. He was 87.
Published: 7/16/2017 10:00:00 AM

Led Kentucky to its greatest season ever

Vito “Babe” Parilli, a 1982 College Football Hall of Fame inductee from Kentucky who quarterbacked the Wildcats for Hall of Fame coach Bear Bryant from 1949-51, passed away July 15 in Parker, Colo. Born May 7, 1930, he was 87.

A promising star from Rochester High School in western Pennsylvania, Parilli brought Kentucky national recognition as he introduced Bear Bryant's "T" Formation that baffled opponents and spectators alike. On the field or in the stands, you simply lost sight of the football once Parilli had it in his magical Houdini hands. Defenders tackled backs not carrying the ball as Parilli miraculously seemed to repossess it and toss it into hands that suddenly appeared from obscurity.

In 1949 and 1950, Parilli directed teams that ran up 684 points against 115 opposition points. The Wildcats held 10 of 22 opponents scoreless, and all but three to 7 points or less. In 1949, Parilli led Kentucky to a 9-3 record, including wins over LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida. In 1950 during Parilli’s junior year, the Wildcats produced the greatest season in school history, including an 11-1 campaign and Southeastern Conference Championship.  Parilli’s senior season resulted in an 8-4 record, culminating his illustrious career with NCAA records at time for career passing touchdowns (50), completions (331) and passing yards (4,351).

During his tenure, Kentucky appeared in three bowl games, including the 1950 Orange Bowl and wins over Oklahoma in the 1951 Sugar Bowl and TCU in the 1952 Cotton Bowl. The Sugar Bowl victory ended the Sooners’ 31-game winning streak, which at the time was the fifth-longest in college football history.

He led the nation in passing efficiency in ‘51 and touchdowns in ‘50 and ‘51, earning consensus First Team All-America honors in both ‘50 and ‘51. He came in third in the Heisman Trophy voting in ‘51 and fourth in ‘50. His remarkable college career ended with the Wildcats posting a 28-8 record and him earning a Most Valuable Player citation in the college All-Star Game.

Graduating with a degree in physical education, Parilli was selected in the first round (No. 4 pick overall) of the 1952 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, and he played professional football for 18 seasons, including four with the Packers (1952-53 and 1957-58), three with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League (1954-55 and 1959), one with the Cleveland Browns (1956), one with the Oakland Raiders (1960), seven with the Boston Patriots (1961-67) and two with the New York Jets (1968-69).

During his NFL career, Parilli passed for 22,681 yards and 178 touchdowns, earning three Pro Bowl selections. Parilli was one of only 20 players who played all 10 seasons of the American Football League (1960-69), and he was Joe Namath’s backup on the 1968 Jets team that upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Following his playing career, he coached as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos and the Jets as well as head coaching stints in the Arena Football League and the erstwhile World Football League. In addition to the College Football Hall of Fame, Parilli is a member of the UK Athletics Hall of Fame, the (state of) Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is survived by his son, Vance; his brother, August; and his sister, Martha Edge.

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