Skip to main content

In Memoriam of Captain Joseph M. Bellino, USNA '61, USN (Ret) On Memorial Day 2019

  • In Memoriam of Captain Joseph M. Bellino, USNA '61, USN (Ret) On Memorial Day 2019

By Capt Joseph R. John, May 27, 2019 Op Ed #435

It is fitting today, that we celebrate the life of the most famous Naval Academy Football legend, Captain Joseph M. Bellino, USNA ’61, USN (Ret), who resided in Bedford, MA, and in 1960 was the first Naval Academy football player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy.  Capt Bellino, courageously battled cancer for an extended period and was in the Care Dimensions Hospice House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, when he passed away from stomach cancer on March 27, 2019 at age 81.  He is survived by his wife, the former Ann Tansey, his son John who is a 1989 graduate of the US Naval Academy, and his daughter Therese who is a public school teacher in Cambridge, MA.

Born in Winchester, Massachusetts on March 13, 1938, Joseph Michael Bellino was the son of Michael Bellino, who emigrated from Sicily at age 16, and the former Sarah Corabi.  Joe Bellino attended public school in Winchester; his older brothers were his sports heroes.  Joe played on the Winchester High School football team which only lost two games in the three seasons Joe lettered on the team; his nickname was the "Winchester Rifle," a reference to his explosive running style.  Joe also was also the point guard on a basketball team that won two Eastern Massachusetts championships, as well as a power-hitting baseball catcher who was being scouted by professional baseball teams.

Joe’s brother, Michael of Woburn, recalled a time when a professional baseball scout from the Pittsburg Pirates, and a Naval Academy representative, sat at the family’s kitchen table.  Joe turned down the lucrative bonus offer from the Pirates, returned for his senior year of high school, and despite receiving offers from Notre Dame, and several Big Ten Colleges, committed to enter the US Naval Academy.

After a year in Columbia Prep in Washington, DC, Midshipman Bellino entered the United States Naval Academy in 1957,  joining the Class of 1961.  In his three years at Navy, Midshipman Bellino scored 31 touchdowns, rushed for 1,664 yards on 330 carries, returned 37 kicks for 833 more yards and altogether set 15 Naval Academy football records.  The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster was also a dangerous return man and amassed 577 yards on kickoffs and 256 yards on punts.

In addition to his football exploits, Midshipman Bellino was an outstanding catcher and outfielder on Navy’s baseball teams.  He hit .428 in 22 games in 1959 and led the Eastern Intercollegiate League in stolen bases.  He had a .320 average in 1960 and was the baseball team captain in 1961.

In 1960, Joe Bellino rushed for 834 yards and 15 touchdowns and scored another three TDs via pass receptions.  He was a unanimous All-American selection and also the winner of the Maxwell Award.   In 1960, he won the Heisman handily over Richie Lucas of Penn State, totaling 1,929 points to Lucas’ 613.  

Midshipman Bellino capped his first class (senior) year by winning Navy's top two athletic awards -- the Thompson Trophy and the Naval Academy Athletic Association Sword, marking it the first time in 41 years that one midshipman received both honors.  Midshipman Bellino's No. 27 jersey was retired following the 1960 season.  In 1977, Capt Bellino was enshrined in the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame and was a charter inductee into the Maryland Football Shrine in 1984.

The Bellino Auditorium in Ricketts Hall is named in honor of one of Navy's finest two-sport athletes.  In 2009, Joe Bellino was selected to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium all-time team.  During its annual season-ending football banquet, Navy presents the Joe Bellino Award to the varsity football player whose inspiring on-field performance made a significant impact on the team and contributed to its overall success during the season.

Joe Bellino was selected in both the NFL Draft (17th round by the Washington Redskins) and AFL Draft (19th round by the Boston Patriots) in 1961.  Following completion of his five-year service obligation, Joe Bellino elected to play for the New England Patriots.  Joe Bellino spent three seasons with the Patriots (1965-67), played in 35 games, and scored one touchdown.  Because of his five-year military commitment, Joe Bellino remains the lowest drafted Heisman Trophy winner in NFL history. 

Midshipman Joe Bellino did not enter the US Naval Academy on a football scholarship, was not given padded grades, did not expect to have a professional football career following graduation, yet he played with consistent dedication and loyalty for and with his Navy football teammates, for Navy’s Football Coach Wayne Hardin, for members of the Brigade of Midshipmen, and for the US Naval Academy.  He was a loyal member of another of “Navy’s Football Teams” that throughout the years, always plays to win together.

Each Christmas vacation, flights were scheduled from NAS Anacostia to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island (and to other locations), so Midshipmen from RI and MA could catch a flight home.  Despite Joe Bellino’s fame and feats on the gridiron, he was unassuming and friendly with all Midshipmen in the flight terminal and on those flights.  Our paths crossed on those Christmas flights to Quonset in 1958, 1959, and 1960.  

From 1970-72, while I was matriculating at Harvard Graduate School of Business, and assigned as the Material Officer on 1ND Destroyer Division Staff at the First Naval District in Boston, where Cdr Bellino was also assigned, we recalled those flights and communicated often.  During my time in Boston, Joe kindly invited my wife and I into his home, and we included Captain Joe Bellino on our distribution list for the last 9 years.   

It was Joe Bellino’s commitment, character, and trust in his Navy teammates, and his teamwork, that led to Navy’s outstanding football successes over the three years of Joe’s varsity football career.  It was also that same commitment, character, preparation, and hard work that led to Captain Bellino’s outstanding successes in life.  Joe Bellino spent four decades working in the auto leasing and auction industry and was a longtime member of the Board of Directors for Northern Bank and Trust, based in Woburn, Mass., and he served 28 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve, retiring with the rank of Captain.

Now Captain Joseph M. Bellino, USNA ’61, USN (Ret) is at peace with his Lord and Savior, and is on that same field with the many great football players that Joe followed and admired from afar in his youth.  He is back on the gridiron with those Naval Academy Football teammates, who passed on before him.  We Honor Captain Joe Bellino this Memorial Day and every day.  The Good Lord protected Joe Bellino in life, blessed him in passing, and rested his Noble Soul!!!

Copyright by Capt Joseph R. John.  All Rights Reserved.  The material can only posted on another Web site or distributed on the Internet by giving full credit to the author.  It may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without the permission from the author.