Monday, August 11, 2014

Custom fills hole in Parilli's card legacy


Though he played 16 seasons of professional football between 1952-69, there are more than a few gaps in the football card legacy of Vito "Babe" Parilli. (That's how I always thought of his as a kid; not Vito Parilli or Babe Parilli, but Vito "Babe" Parilli.)

The latest addition to my update set of 1955 Topps-style All-American college cards addresses one of those gaps. 

Parilli would have been a perfect fit in the original 100-card '55T set. He'd been a major star 1949-51 at the University of Kentucky, under Bear Bryant. With Parilli at the helm, the Wildcats had their most successful three-year run ever, with a 28-8 record and consecutive bowl appearances, including a major upset of No. 1 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl after Kentucky's 11-1 1950 season.

That was Parilli's junior year at UK where he set season and career NCAA passing records. He ws a consensus All-American in 1950 (repeating in 1951), the SEC Player of the Year and fourth in the Heisman voting. 

Parilli was the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers (fourth overall) in the 1952 NFL draft. The Packers might have had second thoughts, though, after the College All-Stars game on Aug. 15, which the collegians narrowly lost 10-7 to the L.A. Rams. Parilli was intercepted twice and fumbled four times.

As impressive as Parilli's college career was, he couldn't appear in the 1955 Topps All-American set because he was under card contract with Bowman.

While Topps had issued the first Parilli card in its 1951 Magic football set, Bowman had the exclusive in 1952-54. That 1954 card is probably the reason I was a Parilli fan as a youngster.
The photo of Parilli sporting a blond(?) duck's ass haircut reminded me of my older brothers' cool greaser friends.

Though Parilli was in the '54B set, he wasn't on the football field. He spent the entire 1954-55 seasons with the Army in Africa; thus no 1955 Bowman card.

Parilli didn't get into Topps' first post-merger football card set in 1956, either, though he had returned to the NFL. The Cleveland Browns had acquired Parilli's contract from Green Bay but he spent most of the season on the bench as third-string quarterback.

The Packers reacquired Parilli for 1957, but he was understudy to Bart Starr. In the small football card set of the late 1950s, second-stringers didn't often make the checklist. In 1958, Parilli won the Pack's only game of the season, defeating the Eagles 38-35. He returned to the Topps lineup for 1958.

While the Packers began to show they were a budding dynasty in 1959, and Parilli had a Topps card, he didn't play in the NFL that season. He was up in Canada with the Ottawa Rough Riders.

When Parilli returned to the U.S. in 1960, it was as a member of the Oakland Raiders in the inaugural season of the American Football League. He was backup to Tom Flores and was not included in Fleer's card set for the new league.

Parilli does have a card in the 1961 Topps set, marking his move to the Boston Patriots, again as the second-string quarterback. Fleer also had AFL cards in its 1961 sets, but no Parilli. In 1962 Parilli was moved into the first chair for the Patriots and Topps changed to doing NFL cards only. Fleer  had an AFL set in 1962, but Parilli did not make the cut. He does appear in the 1962 Salada coin issue.

By 1963 Parilli had secured his position as one of the preeminent quarterbacks of the AFL, leading the Pats to the Eastern Division championship. He quarterbacked Boston through the 1967 season, appearing on a football card each year; Fleer in 1963, Topps 1964-67..

Parilli continued in the AFL two more years, providing veteran backup to Joe Namath on the N.Y. Jets, including a token appearance in the Super Bowl III upset of the Colts. Topps did not include Parilli in the 1968 or 1969 sets. 

Following his playing days, Parilli was an assistant coach in the NFL and head coach in the World Football League and Arena Football League. 

As you can see, there are several Babe Parilli custom cards a guy could make. I have a decent enough picture that I could make a 1956 Topps-style Cleveland Browns card. A 1957 Topps card would be easy enough. I know of no photos of Parilli in the CFL. And while a 1959 O-Pee-Chee card would be novel and it would be possible to photoshop something, it doesn't really strike me as a must-have. I haven't found a decent picture of Parilli with the Raiders to create a 1960 Fleer-style card. There are lots of photos of Parilli with the Patriots in the early 1960s, so a 1962 Fleer-style custom would be possible. 

I think I'm going to limit myself, however, to just one more Parilli custom, a 1969 Jets card. You can see the result on my blog here on Aug. 19.

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