Not Your Average Joe
In late March we lost a true local legend who became a national hero and icon. Joe Bellino lost his brief battle with cancer on March 27th. His passing illuminated his extraordinary life. Joe Bellino was one of us. Joe grew up in a small Italian neighborhood of Winchester. He would go onto greatness and if Joe was playing in current times his story would be international news.
Joe was a three sport star at Winchester High School. He was untouchable and uncatchable while playing for the Sachem football team. In basketball his Winchester teams won back to back state titles while running up a 55 game winning streak. In baseball Joe was one of the best catchers in the region and with the MLB draft still ten years away, Joe was offered a contract to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Joe turned down that offer as well as a full scholarship to Norte Dame to attend the United States Naval Academy.
While at Navy Joe played football as well as baseball. Joe hit over .400 his junior year and led the Eastern League in stolen bases. Yup - a catcher leading the league in stolen bases - unheard of. In football Joe won the Heisman trophy in 1960, his senior season. In those days a Heisman Trophy show didn’t exist. Joe once told me how he found out he had won college football’s most coveted award.
Joe recalled he was sitting in class when a messenger entered and told the teacher the Admiral wanted to see Joe Bellino immediately. “I thought I was in trouble,” Joe laughed. “So I went into the Admiral’s office, he stood up shook my hand and stated ‘Congratulations
Joe, you’ve just won the Heisman Trophy. Now you can return to class.’” No Live show on ESPN, no live announcement at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City. A simple word of mouth by the head of the United States Naval Academy.
Later that day there would be a press conference and one reporter asked, “Joe you’ve won the Maxwell Award and now the Heisman Trophy. Is there anything else you’d like to accomplish this year?” Joe paused and then replied “Its been a pretty good year (1960) for guys from Massachusetts. I would like to meet President John F. Kennedy.” The next day a telegram arrived at Navy for Joe Bellino. It was from the President Kennedy who instructed Joe Bellino to gather all his teammates from Massachusetts the following Saturday where a limo would meet them and take them to lunch with The President.
Joe Bellino graduated from Navy in the spring of 1961. Flowing a long standing tradition at Navy the graduates toss their hats in the air at the completion of the ceremony. According to one Navy coach there were roughly 700 hats scattered on the field. One eight year old boy was in search of his hero’s hat and he found the one with the name Joe Bellino on the inside. That eight year old boy was young Billy Belichick.
Joe Bellino was revered by Bill Belichick since Bill began hanging around Navy football with his dad (a Navy assistant coach) in the late 1950’s. Bill Belichick would often have Joe Bellino attend Patriots practice with hopes his players may borrow greatness from a true American Hero. Joe Bellino was not Your Average Joe!