Short of getting himself maimed or drafted, Boston Quarterback Babe Parilli could hardly have had a more unpleasant week. In a period of seven days—from Sunday afternoon through last Saturday night—the Patriots lost two games they could have won, Parilli threw eight interceptions and a national magazine informed America that the graying, 37-year-old Babe is friendly with some fellows whose view of jail has been from the inside looking out.
Specifically, the story in LIFE magazine identified Parilli as a patron of Arthur's Farm, Arthur Ventola, Prop. Arthur's Farm is a crowded little shop, about the size of a two-car garage, in Revere, Mass. just outside of Boston. It is near a field where the Patriots used to practice. From the shelves and bins of Arthur's Farm one may purchase stereo tapes, toys, cuff links, and dozens of other items at bargain prices. For a seeker of deals, that is a very nice thing. The trouble in Parilli's case is that he is a professional athlete and Arthur Ventola is alleged to have some sort of connection with Cosa Nostra—the mob.
Parilli has not been accused of any criminal activity but, although the Boston players deny it, the publicity attendant on his magazine mention seems to have had a deleterious effect on the Patriots' performance in their first two league games. At best, it has been indicative of their bad luck.
The Boston players had heard about the LIFE story before it appeared, but they had failed to anticipate the flap it would cause. They understood a number of them would be mentioned in the article. Their attitude was that they would absorb it as a team. It did not occur to them that notoriety would settle on just one member of the group.
September 17, 1967
"At least 20 of the Patriots, including 12 who are still with the club, have shopped at Arthur's Farm," said a source close to the team. "We figured it up the other night, and seven or eight players had been in Arthur's Farm before Parilli ever visited the place. Bill Hundley [pro football's chief investigator] knew the story was coming up. He talked to Mike Holovak, Parilli and another player and said the league had investigated and we were clean. He said the league would issue a statement absolving us when the magazine came out. The players were very disappointed at the lack of a forceful statement from the league's office."
Parilli said the thought of the forthcoming story had not bothered him going into the opening game with Denver, unless the effect was in his subconscious. However, he threw six interceptions—a career high for one game—as Boston lost 26-21. "He was pressing," said one player. "Babe wanted to win so much that it got to him."
When the pressure really got to him, though, was two days after the Denver game, on the afternoon LIFE reached the newsstands. "That was the only night I couldn't sleep," Parilli told a friend.
Among other things that worried Parilli was what his parents would think about the story. The Parillis are Italian immigrants who live in an old house in Rochester, Pa. "They won't know what to think," Parilli said.
After the story was out, Parilli placed a long-distance call from San Diego—where the Patriots went following their loss to Denver—to his wife in Boston. For hours the line was busy. Finally Parilli called a neighbor who went to the Parilli home and found that Mrs. Parilli, bothered by crank calls, had taken the phone off the hook.
The Patriots, meanwhile, were rallying around their quarterback. Defensive Captain Tom Addison, a linebacker who is also the club's player representative, wrote out a statement on a place mat he had picked up from his table in the restaurant at the Stardust Motor Hotel, where the team was staying.
"We, the players, think that Babe has been dealt a serious blow to his character...." Addison wrote. "We stand behind Babe 100 percent on and off the field because he is the type of person that is beyond reproach as a quarterback or as an individual. It is outrageous to think that Babe should be picked from so many of us—including myself—that have entered the doors of this so-called Arthur's Farm. If I had an Italian name, and was a quarterback, it could have been me. Why did they not use the name of an Irish or English player? Babe Parilli has done nothing wrong, nor have any of the other players who have shopped there. We want to drop the matter now and forget about it. It has not hurt our morale for this game with San Diego because we are a team and we will play like a team."
Addison, who said he had shopped for toys with his wife at Arthur's Farm for three or four years, added that several of the Patriots had come to him and volunteered to be named as customers of the place. But, Addison said, he could see no good purpose in bringing them into it.
Holovak, AFL Coach of the Year last season, was eager to have the matter resolved and disposed of. Ordinarily a calm and polite fellow, he was clearly angry as he sat beside the Stardust pool a few hours before the San Diego game. Holovak has refused to hire an offensive backfield coach at Boston, saving the job for Parilli when he retires.
"I don't think this has affected the team," Holovak said. "But what is all this supposed to prove? Who is being accused of what? How are you supposed to know if you are in a place that is run by gangsters? You know it could happen to anybody."
Following his usual relaxed procedure, Holovak left his players on their own time from the end of Friday's workout until they motored off in cabs (their bus broke down) for the stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Some went to the golf course that is on the motel grounds. Others wandered around the sprawling premises, talking in groups on the sidewalk, sitting in the coffee shop, watching the underwater go-go girls perform in a glass-walled pool. Parilli walked into the magazine shop, thumbed through the rack for a moment and said, "I better not buy one. It might be the wrong thing. It might be sinful, sinful."
Billy Sullivan, president of the Patriots, spent part of Saturday afternoon looking at a baseball game on television. "I would say our team tonight will play its best game in a long time," he said. "Babe is immensely popular with the players. I've been in professional sports for 32 years and I have never met a nicer man, a man with a better character than Babe. He'll sit for hours talking to little kids. I've never even heard him swear. In some ways he reminds me more of a violinist than of an athlete. He's a gentle person. Who can say how this will affect him? You can't put yourself into another person's mind. I've taken a lot of belts in this business. It's all part of the old ball game. But my wife has nearly had nervous breakdowns over some of the stuff written about me. Some guys on this team would have just laughed if they had been named in that story. But Babe is a very sensitive man. Nobody knows how this will affect him or his family."
Parilli deserved a better fate than he received Saturday night. His receivers dropped half a dozen passes. The Chargers scored a third touchdown after Boston, attempting to kick, lost the ball on a high pass from center. Trying to pull the game out, Parilli was hit while passing, and the ball went to San Diego's Kenny Graham, who ran it back for a touchdown and a 28-14 win.
Parilli's substitute, John Huarte, late of Notre Dame and the Jets, finished the last couple of minutes of the game while Parilli and Holovak, old friends, exchanged some words that made them look like old enemies. Later nobody was talking. The Boston locker room was as gala as a polio ward.
"All I want to do is forget this," Parilli said. After such a week, that may take him a lifetime.