LEXINGTON, Ky. – Vito “Babe” Parilli, the quarterback who led the University of Kentucky football team to the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls in the 1949-51 seasons and was eventually enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, has passed away at the age of 87.
“Babe is among the greatest legends of Kentucky athletics history,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “He was the quarterback for a golden era of Wildcat football and loved returning to Lexington for the team reunions. We are saddened by his passing and send our sympathies to his family and friends.”
Parilli came to UK from Rochester, Pa., recruited to Lexington by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. As the starting QB, he guided the Wildcats to a three-year record of 28-8, including the 1950 season highlighted by a Southeastern Conference championship and as one of four teams with a claim on the national championship.
Parilli started as a sophomore in 1949, as Kentucky went 9-3, including wins over LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida. The Wildcats lost to Santa Clara, 13-7, in the 1950 Orange Bowl.
Parilli’s junior year featured the greatest season in school history, an 11-1 campaign and SEC championship. The Wildcats topped the year with a 13-7 triumph over Oklahoma in the 1951 Sugar Bowl, snapping the Sooners’ 31-game winning streak – at the time the fifth-longest win streak in college football history.
Kentucky finished No. 7 in both the final Associated Press and United Press polls, although the final polls were selected before the bowl games were played. The Sagarin computer ranking, which began in the 1970s and is used by USA Today, has reconstructed previous seasons and rates UK as the national champion for the 1950 season. Tennessee, Oklahoma and Princeton are the other schools with a claim on the ’50 title.
Parilli’s senior season in 1951 featured an 8-4 record, capped by a 20-7 win over TCU in the 1952 Cotton Bowl, his final game in a Kentucky uniform. Parilli threw two touchdown passes and was one of three Wildcats chosen as most valuable player of the bowl game.
Parilli earned first-team All-America honors in 1950 and 1951. He was SEC Player of the Year as voted by league coaches as a junior and first-team All-SEC in 1950 and ’51. He was fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a junior and third as a senior. His career statistics featured 331 completions in 592 passing attempts for 4,351 yards and 50 touchdowns, setting numerous SEC and school records. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Numerous other honors include:
- 1950 – Atlanta Touchdown Club Award, Atlanta Constitution Award, Birmingham Quarterback Club Award, Washington Touchdown Club Award
- 1951 – Atlanta Constitution Award
- All-Time Kentucky Team selected in 1990 by the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal for the 100th season of Kentucky football
- Southeast Area All-Time Team for the 50-year period from 1920-69
- All-Time Cotton Bowl Team
- Played in the College All-Star Game (most valuable player), the Senior Bowl and the Hula Bowl
Parilli was selected in the first round (No. 4 pick overall) by the Green Bay Packers in the 1952 National Football League draft. He played a total of 18 professional football 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).
Parilli was one of only 20 players who played all 10 seasons of the American Football League (1960-69). He was a member of the New York Jets team that upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl. He played three times in the AFL All-Star Game (MVP in 1966), was the 1966 AFL Comeback Player of the Year, and was chosen for the All-AFL 10-Year Anniversary Team and the Boston Patriots All-Decade Team.
After his playing career, Parilli coached in the NFL, World Football League and Arena Football League.
In addition to the College Football Hall of Fame, Parilli also was selected to 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.