When the Patriots make their preseason debut Aug. 9, a voice that accompanied generations of fans on autumn Sundays for more than three decades will be absent from the team’s radio broadcast.
Gino Cappelletti, known affectionately as “Mr. Patriot” for his on-field exploits during the franchise’s early years before embarking on a 32-year career as a popular color analyst, has decided to retire.
Gil Santos, Cappelletti’s partner for 28 years on the broadcasts and the past 21 consecutively, will return for his 36th year in the booth. Scott Zolak, the former Patriots quarterback who thrived in an innovative sideline-based third analyst role last season, is expected to succeed Cappelletti on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s broadcasts, though that decision is yet to be finalized.
Cappelletti, 78, was not available for comment Thursday night, but he said in a statement through CBS Radio that it has been tremendously rewarding to watch the Patriots develop into one of the NFL’s signature franchises.
“Through five decades, my romance with football and my relationship with the Patriots organization have provided me with a lifetime of wonderful memories,” said Cappelletti, a rookie wide receiver/kicker/defensive back on the franchise’s inaugural team in the American Football League in 1960 who would go on to be an MVP, a five-time All-Star, the league’s all-time leading scorer, and a member of the all-time All-AFL team.
“I have had the privilege of sharing the broadcast of six Super Bowls, and amazingly, five in the past decade. The memory of the first Super Bowl victory will always be fresh in my mind. For me, it serves as a special reminder of how far this franchise has come, the challenges that were met, and the adversity we faced in those early years. But as they say in the huddle after a long, successful day’s work, it’s time to take a knee and celebrate the win.’’
Santos and Cappelletti, paired from 1972-78 and consecutively from 1991 through last season, had many successful days of work. With Santos’s classic baritone and Cappelletti’s genial manner, they were the unofficial voices of fall in New England. During their heyday, Patriots fans liked to say they turned down the sound on the television so they could listen to the broadcasters they knew simply as Gil and Gino. Their call of Adam Vinatieri’s winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI remains a classic.
But in recent years, the game seemed to speed up on Cappelletti, and gaffes became more prevalent during the broadcast. Adding Zolak to the team last year was a graceful way of providing support while letting Cappelletti go out on his own terms. But for generations of Patriots fans, it won’t be quite the same without him.
“Gino is a beloved sports legend in the region who has earned this well-deserved retirement,’’ said CBS Radio Boston senior vice president and market manager Mark Hannon. “Listening to the Patriots games without the voice of Cappelletti will be a big change.”
It often seemed a foregone conclusion that Matt Light, insightful, funny, and articulate when the mood struck him during his 11 seasons with the Patriots, would end up working in television once his playing days were over.
The former tackle’s second career became official Thursday when ESPN announced that Light, who retired in May, would join the network as an NFL analyst. He will appear on “SportsCenter” and “NFL Live” among other venues, and contribute features to “Sunday NFL Countdown.’’
“I’m really looking forward to joining the ESPN family and getting a chance to see the game from a different side,’’ said Light, who worked as a guest analyst for the network earlier this year. “I’m obviously depending heavily on my rugged good looks and ability to avoid run-on sentences to succeed in this new role.”
Light is the latest former Patriot to land a prominent national gig. Tedy Bruschi, Damien Woody, and ex-defensive coordinator Eric Mangini are at ESPN, Rodney Harrison is a superb studio analyst for NBC, and Heath Evans and Willie McGinest work for the NFL Network.
Hall of Fame lineup
MLB Network will have the exclusive telecast of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday. The festivities will begin at 12:30 p.m. with a special edition of “MLB Tonight’’ featuring Brian Kenny, Peter Gammons, Harold Reynolds, and Tom Verducci, with the formal ceremony following at 1:30 p.m. Former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin — a former MLB Network analyst now at ESPN — is the lone inductee from the writers’ ballot this year. Vicki Santo will deliver the acceptance speech for her late husband, third baseman Ron Santo, who was elected by the Golden Era Committee.
Rumor that won’t die: The long-overdue return of ESPN Radio to the Boston airwaves could happen by the end of the summer, possibly on Entercom-owned 850 or 680 AM . . . Sure wish I had been in the house Monday night to witness the standing ovation Globe columnist Bob Ryan was given in the Fenway press box for his final official assignment at the ballpark, an appropriate and deserved salute if there ever was one. But it is a pleasure to note that Ryan, who is retiring after the London Olympics, will not be absent from these pages. He will write columns for the Sunday Globe, probably 30 or so per year.