An icon of SEC football, Vito “Babe” Parilli played quarterback for the great Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, where Parilli became an All-American. Born in Rochester, Pennsylvania, an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, Parilli overcame humble beginnings and graduated from Rochester High School in 1948.
Bryant was in just his sixth year as a college football head coach and a long way from the statue that sits on the campus at the University of Alabama when he handed the keys to the Kentucky car over to Parilli. Parilli didn’t disappoint as he finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 1950 and was the runner-up in 1951.
Those two seasons were big ones for the entire Kentucky team. 1950 culminated with a trip to the Sugar Bowl against top-ranked Oklahoma. Parilli threw a touchdown pass to get the Wildcats on the board, and they never looked back in a 13-7 win while Parilli earned MVP honors. The following season, Kentucky defeated Texas Christian in the Cotton Bowl with Parilli tossing two more touchdown passes to help lead the win.
With 50 touchdown passes in three seasons at Kentucky, Parilli was ready to take his game to the NFL. Drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the fourth overall pick in 1952, Parilli threw for 13 scores in his rookie year and more than 1400 yards.
Parilli bounced around the NFL and even the Canadian Football League before finally finding a home in the American Football League with the Boston Patriots. A three-time AFL All-Star, Parilli had 31 touchdown passes in 1965 which remained a Patriots record until Tom Brady broke it in 2007. Many of those throws went into the hands of Gino Cappelletti, a fellow NIASHF inductee. The flashy duo became known as the “Grand Opera”.
Parilli wasn’t just a pocket passer, he used his legs to amass four yards per rush on 383 career attempts. With a total of 201 career touchdowns including 23 on the ground, Parilli was one of the most successful players in AFL history. Right before the AFL merged with the NFL, Parilli was on the sidelines as the backup QB for the league’s greatest moment in the New York Jets’ Super Bowl III win over the Baltimore Colts. Finishing his football career as a head coach in the World Football League and the Arena Football League including a stint with the Chicago Winds, the 84-year old Parilli now resides in Denver.