Before Woodson. Before Lorenzen. Before Couch, Pookie, Ransdell and Ramsey, there was the Babe. The quarterback that elevated Bear Bryant to stardom at the University of Kentucky, Vito “Babe” Parilli passed away today at 87.
The Kentucky Babe is arguably the most successful person to ever play football at the University of Kentucky. The signal-caller (who actually called the plays for Bryant on the field) threw for 23 touchdowns as a junior and 19 as a senior, earning All-American honors each season. The next time a UK quarterback threw for more than 11 touchdowns in a season, Tim Couch threw 37 in the Air Raid of 1997.
His statistics were not as impressive as his record. In his three years as a starter, Kentucky went to the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowl. The Sugar Bowl victory over undefeated Oklahoma is widely regarded as the greatest win in the history of the program. In the Bear’s final game at UK, Parilli led the Cats to a 20-7 victory in the 1952 Cotton Bowl.
The fourth pick in the 1952 NFL Draft, the Rochester, Pennsylvania native bounced around the NFL before finding a home with the AFL’s Boston Patriots. He is still the Patriots’ fourth all-time leading passer. One of just 20 players to play in all ten years of the AFL’s existence, he ended his career as Joe Namath’s backup in Super Bowl III.
The Big Blue Nation has lost one of its best. We extend our thoughts and prayers to Parilli’s family and loved ones.
For more on the career of the College Football Hall of Famer, read this excellent piece by Mark Story from two years ago.