Another beloved member of the New England sports media has left us.
Gil Santos, whose short, stocky stature belied his standing as a giant among the region’s sportscasters, died on Thursday. The “Voice of the Patriots” for 36 years was more Patriot than many of the players he described. Born on Patriots Day in 1938, married on Patriots Day in 1961, he died on Patriots Day in 2018.
Santos was blessed with a voice so rich and mellifluous that it was a pleasure to turn on the radio and listen to his call of a Pats game. His delivery was crisp, and his cadence in calling play after play was perfect. Even when he got excited, as when Adam Vinatieri kicked Super Bowl winning field goals, he remained in control, never resorting to the screams that emanate from radio booths so often now.
Santos was a throwback to the days when reporters and broadcasters started small and worked their way up. Born and raised in the New Bedford area, he broadcast high-school and college games for radio stations in New Bedford for several years before WBZ, one of the major outlets in Boston, hired him in 1966, according to a story Friday in the Boston Globe. WBZ had just secured the rights to air the Patriots games and assigned Santos to do color for play-by-play man Bob Starr. That was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until 2013, when Santos called his last game, a loss to Baltimore in the AFC Championship.
Santos worked many of his 744 games with Gino Cappelletti, the former Patriots receiver and placekicker. Gil and Gino became one of the great broadcast teams, right up there with the longtime Red Sox partners Ned Martin and Jim Woods. They shared the booth from 1972 to 1978 and again from 1991 until Cappelletti retired before the 2012 season. Listening to them was like overhearing old friends talking football over beers.
I met Gil Santos in 1978, shortly after I had picked up the Patriots beat for the Providence Journal in the wake of Mike Madden’s departure for the Boston Globe. The Pats were playing in Baltimore, and somehow I got invited to join Gil, Gino, Mike and perhaps one or two others for dinner. Gil knew a Portuguese place in town, so there we went. It was my first taste of paella.
Some years later, after WBZ had lost the Patriots, Santos was broadcasting and I was covering Brown football. One beautiful Saturday at Princeton, we sat in the empty horseshoe that was Palmer Stadium well before the game and chatted. Sure, he missed the Patriots, but he talked about Brown and broadcasting with enthusiasm. A few days later, I wrote a profile.
Santos eventually returned to the radio booth at Foxboro Stadium, where he remained a fixture until he retired.
According to the Globe, Santos also broadcast Providence College and Big East basketball, Boston College and Penn State football and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
In addition to his Patriots duties, Santos delivered the scores and more for 38 years with the WBZ morning news team. But his first love was calling those 744 Patriots games – the good, the bad, and the ugly – for 36 years. And that is how I will remember Gil Santos, forever the “Voice of the Patriots”.