A half-century later, Gino Cappelletti was back at Fenway for football
It was a moment in time, just a single second, more than 1.7 billion seconds ago.
The date was Nov. 6, 1964. At Fenway Park, the Houston Oilers were leading the Boston Patriots, 24-22, with just one tick left on the clock.
It was a Friday night. The temperature was 48 degrees, just as it was for Saturday’s Harvard-Yale game at Fenway. The wind was blowing into Gino Cappelletti’s face. If he hit the 42-yard field goal, the Patriots would win. If he missed, their playoff hopes were likely squashed.
Now, 54 years later, Cappelletti is back at Fenway Park, sitting in box seats near the Pesky Pole, and hoping his grandson, Jack Biestek, a freshman wide receiver for Yale, would play.
Cappelletti, 84, remembers that moment from ’64 as his greatest Fenway hit.
The Patriots placekicker/wide receiver was the AFL MVP that season. He led the league in scoring five times in his career, and his 1,130 points are third in Patriots history.
Things were different back then. The Warren Commission had just concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Beatles played just 12 songs to screaming fans at Boston Garden on Sept 12, 1964. At Fenway, nobody in the stands wore replica jerseys yet (they didn’t appear until the mid ’70s). The ballpark’s primary residents, the Red Sox, had just finished a dismal eighth in the American League.
Cappelletti’s last-second kick almost never happened. A George Blanda field goal with just 32 seconds left had put Houston ahead and left the Patriots precious little time. But quarterback Babe Parilli moved the Patriots downfield quickly with three passes, including one to Cappelletti.
With 10 seconds left, Parilli had time for one sideline pass to move the team into field goal position. With all of his receivers covered, Parilli scrambled for 7 yards, barely getting out of bounds at the Oilers’ 34-yard line before time expired.
Cappelletti always watched the wind during games. He checked the flags at field level and atop the stadiums. Many times they didn’t match, he said, especially at Fenway.
But on this night, he was kicking directly into the wind. He hit it just right with his $25 custom-made flat-toed shoe.
“I just pounded the ball in there,” he says.
The kick was “perfect,” according to the Globe report. Patriots 25, Oilers 24.
The crowd was stunned.
“For about two seconds after referee Walter Fitzgerald reached his arms to signify that this Hollywood finish was actually real, there wasn’t a sound in the ball park,” wrote John Ahern in the next day’s Globe. “Then the mob of 28,161 roared its approval and most of the throng went on the field to salute the hero.”
Cappelletti remembers frantically trying to get to the clubhouse. This was three years before Jim Lonborg would get carried off the field after the final regular-season game of the Red Sox’ Impossible Dream season.
“It was difficult, because everybody came out on the field,” he says. “Everybody wanted a piece of me.”
Sandy Cappelletti, his wife of 56 years, says the Fenway years (1963-68) were his most productive.
“He scored 299 points in the six years at Fenway, 215 kicking and 84 receiving,” she says.
Then she bursts out laughing.
“I’m his statistician,” she says.
“She’s taking over,” says Gino with a smile.
Cappelletti also was a member of the Patriots radio broadcast team for 28 years until he retired before the 2012 season.
Many fans of a certain age passionately complain that “Mr. Patriot” deserves to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I appreciate that,” he says.
Cappelletti remembers booting extra points into the Fenway bullpen in right field. The fans were so close that sometimes they threw snowballs at Patriots players when they played poorly. But he loved playing there because it was the big time and loaded with history.
“When we walked in, we said, ‘Where’s Ted Williams’s locker?’ ” says Cappelletti.
Asked how attendance was in the early days, Cappelletti said it started slow but eventually grew. He remembers a sellout after a heavy snowstorm.
“We had blizzard conditions one time,” he says. “I was driving in from Wellesley on Route 9 and snow was coming down. I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it,’ the snow was so heavy.
“Snow and ice and the cars were going off the road. Everybody thought I was one of them. Everybody down here in the locker room thought Cappelletti got kidnapped.”
He eventually made it safely to the ballpark. He’s not sure of the game details, but his description matches a 24-14 loss to the Jack Kemp-led Buffalo Bills on Dec. 20, 1964, that cost the Patriots the East Division title. A crowd of 38,021 had to wait 35 minutes while the grounds crew cleared the snow.
Now, three generations of Cappellettis keep their eyes and binoculars on the Yale bench, looking for Biestek, a 6-foot-3-inch receiver from Chapel Hill, N.C., who was on the same hallowed grounds as his famous grandfather.
Before the season, Biestek texted Cappelletti, writing, “Papa, guess who’s going to be rocking number 20 this year at Yale?” Cappelletti wore No. 20 for the Patriots throughout his 11 years with them.
Although he barely saw any game action this season, Biestek’s football pedigree is stellar. In addition to his grandfather playing in the AFL, his father Jim and uncle Bob played for Boston College in the 1980s. And his uncle Tom Waddle was a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears from 1989-95.
Cappelletti remembers playing catch with Biestek when he was younger.
“I did throw the ball with him down at Raleigh-Durham,” he says. “Good hands, and he could throw the ball as well. I salute him.”
Cappelletti clearly enjoyed the game, watching with his wife, daughters, and grandchildren even though Biestek didn’t play. Ever the good guy, he stood and applauded, even when Harvard scored.
When The Game was over, Biestek quickly shook a few Harvard hands, then hustled over to see his grandfather. Doing his best Mookie Betts impression, he leaped up and sat on the right-field wall to hug Cappelletti, who beamed proudly.
Before Biestek got back to New Haven, Sandy Cappelletti received a text.
“Thanks for coming today Nana,” wrote Biestek. “It meant the world to me to have Papa see me at Fenway.”