Gil Santos, a New England broadcasting icon whose warm baritone made him the voice of fall to generations of Patriots fans, died Thursday night, the team confirmed. He was 80.
Santos was best known as the radio voice of the Patriots from 1966-79 and again from 1991 through his retirement following the 2012 season.
No play-by-play voice has ever had a longer stint calling a pro football franchise’s games. In total, he called 743 Patriots games, missing just one — a preseason game in 1971 to attend his father’s funeral.
He worked 28 of those seasons (1972-78, 1991-2011) with his good friend, color analyst and Patriots legend Gino Cappelletti.
In a statement released by the team, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said, “For generations of Patriots fans, Gil Santos was and forever will be known as the ‘Voice of the Patriots.’
“Tonight, I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing on a day that he was celebrating his 80th birthday and his 57th wedding anniversary to his wife, Roberta. Gil was a legendary broadcaster, who for 36 years passionately described the play-by-play detail of every Patriots game during his career, including many of the most memorable moments in franchise history.
“It was my privilege to honor Gil with his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013. His legacy and most memorable calls will live there for future generations of Patriots fans to enjoy. On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our sincerest sympathies to Roberta, his daughter Kathleen, his son Mark and the many others who are mourning his loss.”
After Cappelletti’s retirement following the 2011 season, Santos worked his final season with Scott Zolak, the Patriots’ current color analyst.
Santos delivered countless memorable calls during his time in the Patriots booth, particularly after the arrival of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in 2000 and the eventual birth of their enduring dynasty.
With Cappelletti alongside, Santos called the Patriots’ first three Super Bowl victories.
His most memorable has to be the conclusion of that first victory, when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard-field goal to defeat the heavily favored Rams in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI.
As Vinatieri’s kick split the uprights, Santos, with pure joy in his voice, delivered a perfect, almost cathartic call:
“For Adam Vinatieri, a 48-yard field goal attempt . . . set to go, ball down, kick up, kick is on the way . . . and . . . it . . . is . . . GOOD! IT’S GOOD! IT’S GOOD! ADAM VINATIERI BOOMS A 48-YARD FIELD GOAL, AND THE GAME IS OVER! AND THE PATRIOTS ARE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS! THE PATRIOTS ARE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!”
Santos, who was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013, will best be remembered for his vivid calls of those Patriots games. He said during his induction ceremony that his favorite games to broadcast were the three Super Bowl wins, the “Snow Bowl” (the 2001 AFC Divisional playoff win against the Raiders), and everything else tied for fourth.
But his association with the Patriots is far from his full legacy.
For much of the Celtics’ Big Three era, Santos called Celtics games, with Bob Cousy on color, from 1981-89, first on Ch. 4 and then Ch. 56.
He was the sports director of WBZ radio for 38 years, retiring in 2009, the same year he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.