Besides being the backup quarterback to Joe Namath, Babe Parilli helped the New York Jets in one key area which helped them do the unthinkable.
Vito “Babe” Parilli, who died Saturday at age 87 from complications of multiple myeloma, had three great years for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky. He followed that up with an illustrious and rich 15-year professional quarterbacking career, but it was his 1968 season that is most unforgettable for fans of the New York Jets. Ironically, it had little to do with ducking under center.
Head coach Weeb Ewbank traded backup quarterback Mike Taliaferro to the Boston Patriots in the summer of 1968, providing Joe Namath with an experienced, savvy quarterback who the Jets felt was needed for a championship run. At age 38, Babe’s best seasons were here-and-gone, but his acumen from experiences with Green Bay (for Vince Lombardi), Cleveland (for Paul Brown), Oakland and his six highly productive seasons in Boston, readied him to replace Namath in the event of a disastrous injury.
Babe also had the smarts needed by Jets’ quarterbacks to anticipate and read defenses; applying that extra information gained seconds before the snap from center, Namath and Parilli were expected to find (and attack) any defense’s soft spots. The Jets took reading defenses further than any other AFL or NFL team: Ewbank and unofficial offensive coordinator Clive Rush required their receivers, tight end, running backs – even the offensive linemen – to read defenses, too.
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But the transaction that moved Parilli from the struggling Patriots to the championship-ready Jets turned out to be far more valuable to another critical member of the Jets’ offense, kicker Jim Turner, than for Namath.
Turner told me he realized that with the arrival of “Goldfinger” (Parilli’s nickname), Turner was immediately being elevated from a very good field goal kicker to an AFL All-Star. It had happened for Gino Cappelletti in Boston; Jim figured, correctly, that he now would reap the rewards of a Parilli partnership.
It is doubtful that there was a better placekicking holder than Parilli in professional football in the 1960s. He took center John Schmitt‘s snap, spun the ball around and put it down (laces always facing away from the kicker) and Turner had his kick off in 1.2 seconds. Any longer and the kick would be blocked.
Listening to Turner discuss how deeply Babe elevated his kicking prowess made me wonder if Parilli might have been the greatest holder ever. Babe retired at 40 years old after the 1969-70 season, but Turner agreed that Vito (that’s what his teammates called him) could have lasted years longer with the Jets or any other team just as a holder – he was that good.
In 1968, Turner set a single-season record for points exclusively made from place kicks (field goals and extra points): 145. It was achieved in a 14-game regular season – and never accomplished again in 14 games. The Turner-Parilli combination was so efficient that in the second half of the season, Namath regularly abstained from any risky third-down pass in favor of an almost automatic “3” from his kicking team.
The NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978; In 1983, five years after that two-game expansion of the regular season, Washington’s Mark Mosely finally eclipsed Turner’s point total with 161.
Moseley averaged 10.0 points per game in 1983.
Turner averaged 10.375 points per game in 1968.
Only San Francisco’s kicker, David Akers, ever matched Turner’s per-game average when he registered 166 points in 2011.