August 22, 1981. My father and I made the pilgrimage to Sullivan Stadium to watch a preseason game between the Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders. The Patriots won, 23-21, then my father and I headed down to Raynham to visit relatives.
My cousin and I walked down their street towards these woods, when we passed by this house along the way. My cousin says “Hey, guess who lives there?”
I said I didn’t know.
“Gil Santos! That’s where Gil Santos lives!”
All these years, and my aunt, uncle and cousins never bothered to tell me that they were neighbors of the great radio voice of the Patriots. We kept walking down the street. But I never forgot that moment.
September 28, 2002, La Jolla, California. My brother and I are staying at the La Jolla Marriott Hotel on the eve of a game between the Super Bowl champion Patriots and the San Diego Chargers. The La Jolla Marriott was the headquarters of the Patriots. We scored a hotel room there with a lot of Internet pals for the weekend. We got to meet several of the players and coaches. I remember walking through various corridors of the hotel and getting shooed away by Patriot security when I happened to pass by a meeting room marked “linebackers”.
That evening, in the hotel gift shop, there he was. Santos was in there doing some quick shopping before heading out to dinner with his radio partner, Patriot Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti (who I also got to meet that weekend). I walked up to him, introduced myself and dropped my aunt’s name to him. He remembered his neighbor, and I asked him to say hi to her for me. Santos said he would, then excused himself to head out with Gino. He had only about a year to make good on that request, as my aunt passed away the following year.
Never mind the impeccable career, the golden voice, the stature of the Patriot icon. The fact that he was a neighbor of my father’s sister and family was something that was personally special to me.
Santos passed away last Thursday on his 80th birthday. It was also his 57th wedding anniversary. The passing of Santos signaled the end of an era in Boston sports broadcasting. He is the last of several iconic Boston area sportscasters from the 1960s to the present who became giants in their field as well as beloved by many fans down and through the years for their consistent high level of broadcasting, as well as the comfort of just hearing their wonderful voice.
Los Angeles has many immortal broadcasters, namely Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, Chick Hearn and Bob Miller. Philadelphia boasts Harry Kalas, By Saam and Merrill Reese. New York loves to talk about Mel Allen, Red Barber, Russ Hodges, Lindsey Nelson and Marv Albert. But Boston has such beloved voices as Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman, Ned Martin, Fred Cusick, Bob Wilson, Johnny Most, and Santos. These men represent some 60 years of memorable broadcasting for all of New England, and as a group represent one of the finest in the nation, if not the finest.
Santos began calling the Patriots in 1966, working as a color analyst alongside Bob Starr, who would later go on to call Red Sox games on the radio in the 1990s. Santos became the play-by-play man in 1971, and remained in that capacity through the end of the 1970s. A change in flagship radio stations left Santos out of the booth in the 1980s (John Carlson, a former television voice of the New England Whalers, called the Patriot games in that decade including the run to Super Bowl XX), but Santos regained the job in 1990 and held the job through the 2012 season. Despite the ten-year hiatus, Santos is the one single voice most associated with the Patriots to this day.
His smooth, rich baritone voice was incredibly pleasing to listen to. It was a stately voice, one that you could listen to for much more than the usual three hours a football game takes. His vocal presence elevated the importance of Patriot games, especially in the years before they became the dynastic presence they currently are. Unlike some of the other scream and holler types around the league who sound like brash cheerleaders, Santos gave you a measured account of the game, combined with a gentle love of the Patriots which reminded you that he was your guy and the Patriots’ guy.
Around New England, you always loved Santos. But ever since Super Bowl XXXVI, and thanks in part to NFL Films and the NFL Network, more of the rest of the nation got to enjoy and love Santos.
The pulsating finish to Super Bowl XXXVI gave Santos the opportunity for immortal sound bytes, and he did not disappoint. His joyous call of Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal which beat the St. Louis Rams remains one of the most beloved in Boston area sports history. Suddenly, the Patriots began to pop up more in NFL Films productions. Steve Sabol, the late head of NFL Films, took advantage of how popular the Patriots became in their home region and started making more films of the Patriots. Three Games To Glory has become a Super Bowl staple if the Patriots win the Lombardi Trophy.
With the advent of the NFL Network in 2003, the year after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, the Patriots were a part of the network’s rise in stature and exposure. It is clear that in the history of the network, the Patriots have been the NFL’s dominant team, and with every great Patriot season thereafter, the more sound bytes Santos authored. It might be argued that most any football fan in the country would hear Santos’ voice and know who it was, or which team he was the play-by-play voice for.
Along with Cappelletti, the two formed maybe the best radio pair in Boston sports history. No other local team had their longevity, either on radio or television. Cusick and John Peirson come close in all their years on television covering the Bruins. Today, the longest running duo is Mike Gorman and Tom Heinsohn covering the Celtics on television, though Heinsohn has been a part-timer in recent years. But Santos and Cappelletti were the best duo. True friends both on and off the mike, their chemistry was unmistakable and a wonderful New England treasure.
Bob Socci has taken over for Santos, and along with partner Scott Zolak, they have forged their own style and reputation here in this region. But Gil and Gino remain the gold standard.
The passing of Santos leaves every Patriot fan sad and forlorn. More championships will hopefully be in the offing, and Socci and Zolak will be the ones to tell you the stories. But for everyone who used to turn down the television volume to listen to them, Gil and Gino will continue to be sorely missed and fondly remembered.
Gil has rejoined his Raynham neighbors who I used to call aunt and uncle. For an old Patriot fan like me, it was great to say, “My aunt and uncle live down the street from Gil Santos!”
Now, sadly, I have to add the words “used to”.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary