When former Patriots quarterback Babe Parilli died Saturday at age 87, a piece of Charlotte sports history went with him.
Parilli was best known for playing for the then-Boston Patriots from 1961 to 1967, but older Charlotteans will remember him as the city’s first professional football coach: He led the old World Football League’s Charlotte Stars in 1974-75, at Memorial Stadium.
“I love Charlotte. It’s a great place, and the people are great,” Parilli said in a 1992 interview with the Observer.
He became a professional coach in the city by accident. Parilli was coach of the World Football League’s New York Stars in 1974 when the team was moved to Charlotte in the middle of the season. They were nicknamed the Hornets, according to an old Charlotte Observer story.
The team finished with a 10-10 record.
Parilli left Charlotte after the season to coach the WFL’s Chicago Winds. Then, in 1992, Parilli came back to Charlotte to coach Charlotte’s then new Arena Football League team, the Rage. He was 61 at the time.
In a 1992 interview, Parilli fondly recalled his earlier stint in the city with the World Football League: “I remember we filled the stadium down here. And I had a beautiful condo at Raintree that backed right up to the golf course. The city was coming out of the recession, and it was just really starting to grow. It was really a nice place.”
New England announced the death but did not give a cause.
Vito “Babe” Parilli was born in Rochester, Pa. He began his pro career with the Green Bay Packers in 1952 and also played for the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and the CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders. He was the backup to Joe Namath when the Jets won the Super Bowl in 1969.
In 18 years as a quarterback, Parilli played in the NFL, CFL and American Football League, where he earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 1968 New York Jets.
He was named to the All-AFL 10 Year Anniversary Team in 1971, and his 31 touchdown passes in 1964 were a team record until 2007.