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Gil Santos and the calls heard ‘round the world

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Growing up, there were no games without Santos accompanying the action.

(c) twitter.com/scottzolak

When news broke that long-time Patriots play-by-play caller Gil Santos passed away yesterday, memories of my childhood instantly came to mind. Santos, after all, was the voice I associated with the team and the sport of pro football in general back in the day: Whenever I watched the team, it was Santos whose baritone organ and emotional yet always professional commentary explained the action in great detail.

Geography is the reason why Santos played such an integral role in my football-related upbringing: Growing up outside of the United States, and in a time when online streaming was much more of an exception than a norm, television was the lone source of football games – but not in the classic “Sunday 1:00 p.m. to midnight”-way.

With the exception of the Super Bowl and maybe a handful of regular season or playoff meetings, games were broadcast not live but as part of a recap show on the following Friday night. Highlights from all the previous week's games were shown but not with the original sound tape or a local reporter doing voice-over.

No, the sound of each team's radio affiliate was used: When the Patriots were making a play, for example, Gil Santos and long-time broadcasting partner Gino Cappelletti would provide the commentary. Of course, this served as a spoiler: When the duo's voices were heard, you instantly knew that New England was going to make a positive play even when the other team was holding the football.

This didn't bother me, though, since I already knew the games' results at that point. Still, the weekly recap was a fixture on my adolescent schedule – and so was the voice of Gil Santos: Once a week, I listened to his voice over every big play made by the Patriots. The final moments of New England's 38-34 win in Indianapolis, for example, are still vividly in my mind: “15 seconds to go, the handoff to Edgerrin Ja – and he’s stopped! He is stopped! Willie McGinest made the stop at the one-yard line!”

Santos therefore not only became synonymous to Patriots football but to winning as well. Fitting, in my opinion, since he had a highly successful run with the team – one I am happy to have been a part of.