Commentary

Gil and Gino, thanks for the memories

Updated: July 21, 2012, 2:50 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Think about some of the greatest moments in New England Patriots history, and their voices accompany them.

Gil and Gino. Last names not required for identification, play-by-play man and color analyst.

They had a special chemistry in the broadcasting booth, the radio team capturing what was happening with the team of the last decade in the National Football League. Altogether, they did it for 28 years, including the past 21 in a row.

Gino Cappelletti described what he had with Gil Santos as a "simpatico." No surprise; that's also how Santos explained it. "We knew where each other was coming from, knew where the other has been," he said.

[+] EnlargeGino Cappelletti
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesPatriots legend and longtime radio color commentator Gino Cappelletti is retiring after a pro football career that began in 1960.

In recent years, they had talked about going out together, and had things unfolded differently, they might have.

Instead, it's the 78-year-old Cappelletti who officially retired Friday, with Santos, 72, coming back for one final season after surviving a serious health scare this offseason.

"The Super Bowls, had we won the first one against the Giants, we might have walked then. Then this past one was a tough one," a reflective Cappelletti said.

It just felt like time for him.

"A personal instinct," Cappelletti explained.

Santos might have done the same, but his brush with death in February changed everything. He had double pneumonia in one lung, single pneumonia in the other, blood poisoning and a pulmonary obstruction that nearly killed him. He returned home in May, and the play-by-play gig wasn't exactly at the forefront of his thoughts.

"I wasn't really sure I was going to come back; it depended on how my health was going," he said. "A few weeks ago, I felt normal again and wanted to give it one more shot and prove I can do it again."

Santos called 2012 his "farewell tour," confirming it will be his last year in the booth. It won't be the same for him without Cappelletti.

"I'm going to miss doing the games with him," Santos said. "The camaraderie, the good dinners out on the road, just good times, talking about the team or anything else. We had a lot of good times, and all those years, there was never a cross word."

When it started, neither man could have envisioned they'd make it 28 years as a team in the ever-changing radio business. It was 1972, Cappelletti was retired from his playing days with the Patriots, and Santos was auditioning possible analysts to join him on games broadcast on WBZ. Cappelletti already had media experience, first working at WCOP in Waltham, then on television for Channel 4 doing the 11 o'clock sports broadcast. Cappelletti held both jobs while he was still playing, owner Billy Sullivan ensuring the coaching staff would give him a later curfew in return for the positive publicity the franchise would receive from having him on television.

So when Cappelletti arrived for his audition with Santos, and Santos turned on a game tape as if they were in the stadium, it didn't take long for the choice to be made.

"Gino was clearly the No. 1 choice," Santos recalled. "He came on board and the rest is there for everybody to hear."

They worked together from 1972 to 1978, then picked it back up again from 1991 to 2011. In the early years, they also called Boston College games on Saturdays, which meant weekend doubleheaders and high-stress, "helter-skelter" travel. Cappelletti said there were times they'd be at a place like Texas Christian on a Saturday night before hustling to a Patriots game at Miami the next day.

"Thank God for youth," he recalled of those days sprinting through airports.

They became quick friends, realizing they had plenty in common as first-generation Americans, sons of immigrant parents. Cappelletti (Italian) and Santos (Portuguese) found that many of the traditions and customs they'd talk about from their families were similar. That further helped establish a camaraderie that extended into the broadcast booth, where neither felt the need to top the other.

"Gil, as far as I'm concerned, is the consummate play-by-play man on the radio -- great inflection, rapid-fire, great recall," Cappelletti said.

The gentlemanly Cappelletti was the perfect complement, striking the balance of not talking too much, but just enough, and with sharp insight.

"There was an excitement about attempting to paint a picture with words," he said. "I always thought that was what I wanted when listening on the radio to a game. I'm hearing words, but if you were able to paint a picture with those words, it created an image for the listener and that's what they want. We were able to do that and not with a whole lot of nonsense."

Their favorite calls?

"The snow game against the Raiders [in the AFC divisional playoff in 2002], and Adam Vinatieri; I've always been aligned with the placekicking part," Cappelletti said. "He showed me a lot, and I couldn't feel better about someone coming through in an almost impossible situation. That kick gave them the ability to tie the game. There was so much excitement in the stadium, like a winter wonderland. Winning that game, I think it ignited the franchise."

"The 2001 Super Bowl, the win over the Rams, is at the top of the list," Santos said without hesitation. "I remember how we were at halftime, wondering, 'Are we really going to win this thing?' Then the way we won, it was a storybook finish. That will always be at the top of the list, no matter what happens."

Santos then paused, and considered one possibility that could top that dramatic upset -- if the 2012 Patriots go 19-0 and win another Super Bowl.

Cappelletti looked back Friday with fondness, his retirement prompting owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick to issue statements on what he has meant to the franchise.

"It really is humbling," Cappelletti said. "It's been a very exciting adventure and journey that we had, and it's allowed me to maintain an identity with the Patriots. That was something that turned out to be important to me."

He isn't alone. A good portion of New England sports fans feel the same way.

Remember some of the great moments in Patriots history, and more often than not, it was the voices of Gil and Gino that captured them.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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