When the Pro Football Hall of Fame changed its bylaws last month to accommodate more seniors, one move to help them was overlooked. It has to do with closed-door presentations, and, normally, I’d say that’s not a big deal.
But with Thursday’s passing of Gino Cappelletti, I’ve changed my mind.
Under the new bylaws, seniors will be chosen in much the same way as modern-era players. There will be a preliminary list reduced first to 25 candidates and then to 12 – with all results made public. The only difference is that it will done by the senior sub-committee – now with 12 voters – and not all 49.
That’s where the presentations come in.
Previously, candidates weren’t formally presented to sub-committees as much as they were informally discussed. A list would be read, with voters and consultants urged to make comments on each. I can remember more than once in contributor sub-committee meetings where a candidate was mentioned, little or no discussion followed and we moved on.
If you didn’t know it then, you would soon: That nominee had no chance.
But now each of the last 12 candidates will be introduced by a voter, much as the 15 modern-era finalists are each year. Those presentations are limited to five minutes each, with debates to follow, and maybe these will be, too. All I know is that having each of the 12 introduced by voters who advocate for them should enhance the chances of candidates who have been ignored, forgotten or both.
Gino Cappelletti is one of them.
A legendary wide receiver and kicker for the AFL Boston Patriots, Cappelletti has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist – which means voters never heard his case for Canton.
Now they might.
I don’t care if you think he belongs in the Hall or not; Gino Cappelletti at the very least deserves to have his resume discussion for election … and should have had it heard long before now.
Consider his accomplishments:
— He was a five-time AFL All-Star (1961, 1963-66).
— He was the AFL’s 1964 MVP.
— He’s the AFL’s all-time leading scorer with 1,130 points.
— He’s among the AFL’s top 10 receivers in career receptions and yardage.
— He had two of the top five scoring seasons in NFL history, with 155 points in 1964 and 147 in 1961 (14-game seasons).
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— Five times he led the league in scoring, tying Don Hutson and Stephen Gostkowski for the NFL record.
— He was one of three players to participate in every AFL game during the league’s 10-year run (George Blanda and Jim Otto, both Hall of Famers, are the others).
— He was one of only two kickers in AFL history to kick four or more field goals in three consecutive games.
–He holds the Patriots’ single-game scoring record with 28 points vs. Houston in 1965.
— He held the Patriots’ career scoring record until 2005, when it was broken by Adam Vinatieri.
— He’s enshrined in the AFL and Patriots’ Halls of Fame.
OK, so you knew some … or most … of those achievements. But why stop there? Cappelletti had more accomplishments that were more arcane, yet deserve to be mentioned:
— He holds the pro football record for most TDs on Saturday. He had 10.
— He returned kicks and kickoffs and played defensive back. In fact, he was the second player in AFL history to produce three interceptions in a regular-season game.
–He scored 18 or points 10 times in his career and 20 or more eight.
— He’s the only player in pro football history to run for a two-point conversion, throw for a two-point conversion, catch a pass, intercept a pass, return a punt and return a kickoff in the same season.
— He scored a pro football-record 34 percent of his team’s points over an eight-year span.
I think you get the idea. Gino Cappelletti was a giant of the NFL’s rival league. Known as “Mr. Patriot” and “The Duke,” he was loved by teammates, respected by his peers and adored by his fans.
“My heart aches,” New England owner Robert Kraft said Thursday after learning of Cappelletti’s passing at the age of 89. “For the first 51 years of this franchise’s history, Gino contributed as an all-star player, assistant coach and broadcaster. You couldn’t be a Patriots’ fan of that era and not be a fan of Gino’s. The Patriots have had many iconic, fan-favorite players over the years. Gino was the first.”
When I assembled a group of 13 panelists in 2019 to choose finalists for the Talk of Fame Network’s version of a 2020 Centennial Class, Cappelletti was one of the 20 seniors. However, when the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s “blue-ribbon panel” of 25 voters chose them, he was not.
That’s a shame.
Had he been, voters would have heard a presentation chronicling many of the achievements just listed. With the change in bylaws for future senior debates, that might happen … and it should. You can’t tell the story of the American Football League without telling the story of Gino Cappelletti, and, yes, that makes him worthy of a Hall-of-Fame debate.
Here’s hoping it happens.