'He charmed people from the day he was born ...'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

It was in New Orleans in an almost deserted Super Bowl press room when a man who looked vaguely familiar asked if he could use my typewriter for a second.

There were at least another 100 available, but the man sat down at mine and typed a short story which began with this paragraph:

"Jackie Parker's final football tango comes January 27 when he will be inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in Nashville - a stone's throw and a loud holler from where he was born in Knoxville, Tenn."

The man offered his hand.

"Fred Parker," he said. "United Press International."

Fred Parker was the fun-loving newspapering brother I'd heard Jackie talk about.

"Come meet our daddy," said Fred as I packed up after filing.

Born on New Year's Day 1932 in a little red shack high atop Cherry Ridge in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jack Dickerson Parker was born and went on to became a famed name in Canadian sport.

NAME

But that day I learned that he wasn't Jack Dickerson Parker - not in the beginning.

As we walked out of the media room in search of their daddy, Fred Parker told me the story.

He said it had never been written before, something which amazed me because of how much had been written on Parker.

"He was born Jack Dickerson Flanagan," said Fred. "Not Parker."

Fred explained that their mom left Fred and Jackie's "real" father and obtained a court order prohibiting him from seeing the boys. She met and married Carroll A. Parker not long after Jackie was born.

"Our real father was a good man and a bad man. But there's no reason to get into that," said Fred.

"Jackie never met his real father but once. And he didn't know it at the time. It was when he was playing for Mississippi State and they beat Tennessee State 26-0. Walt Flanigan said 'Hi' to him when Jackie was on his way to the locker room. But Jackie didn't know he wasn't just another fan."

Fred Parker said Jackie never talked about his biological father out of respect for Carroll Parker.

"He was the only daddy Jackie ever knew. He adopted us. Gave us his name. Looked after us. Saved our lives. He's the greatest man I ever met."

It was thus I met Carroll A. Parker.

"You know, he won a baby contest once," said the senior Parker of young Jackie.

"He charmed people from the day he was born."

Fred laughed.

"Jackie was a darlin' all right. With that blond hair and those blue eyes, he was a two-toned devil."

So what was he like as a kid?

"He was a brat," said Fred.

"No he wasn't," said Carroll.

"He didn't want to go to school," said Fred. "Yet he ended up on the Dean's list."

What they both marvelled about more than that was that Parker hardly played any organized sports until he reached high school.

"He didn't even play much in high school. He was second string all the time. Then one of the boys got hurt."

Fred said that was all very vivid to him because he was covering the game for the local paper.

"He was so great, overnight, that they had to create an all-star spot for him."

SET SCORING RECORD

Jack couldn't get a major scholarship because he was married in high school. He ended up at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi. Finally he moved to Mississippi State but it was on a baseball scholarship."

He turned into a quarterback there and in his senior season set a scoring record that may still stand - it did for years and years.

His daddy told me that day how he and Jackie once went to Cincinnati for a tryout with the Reds and how Jackie made up his mind to stay with football.

He also told of the day Eskimos GM Al Anderson and New York Giants owner Wellington Mara showed up on the doorstep the same day and how Jackie decided to sign with the Eskimos.

The No. 1 reason Edmonton went after Parker was because of a man who would go on to become a U.S. College football coach - Darrell Royal.

Royal, who came to Edmonton from Mississippi, only coached one year, in 1953, here. But when he left he told the Eskimos if they were ever to get one player, to make sure they went after the kid who was graduating that year down in Mississippi, a young man by the name of Jackie Parker.

120 POINTS

As an All-American at Mississippi State, Parker led all of U.S. college football in scoring in 1953 with 120 points.

He was signed for $9,500 with a $500 signing bonus by the Eskimos, who offered him more money. That was not unusual in those days.

After his first season in Edmonton, Wellington Mara came calling offering him $18,000 but Parker and wife Peggy said they liked it here and intended to stay.

Parker became, arguably, the greatest player in history, essentially from the git-go.

His daddy told of the day in 1954 that he saw his son play in the Grey Cup game in Toronto and return the famous Chuck Hunsinger fumble to win it.

"That was the biggest thrill of my life," he said.

It was one of the biggest thrills of a lot of lives in Edmonton for a long, long time.

Parker returning the Hunsinger fumble, in the first televised Grey Cup game, was the play and the game that made the Grey Cup the Grey Cup. All those Calgary fans with their horses and chuckwagons had made it the grand national party back in 1948. But it was Jackie Parker and the Eskimos who made it the grand national sports event.

Parker returned the fumble 84 yards for a stunning 26-15 win over the Montreal Alouettes that day in Toronto's Varsity Stadium.

Known as Ol' Spaghetti legs and the Mississippi Magic Man, Parker also led the Eskimos to the 1955 and 1956 Grey Cups, one of them with Don Getty at quarterback the entire game.

He also had the Eskimos glory gang back in the Grey Cup in 1960 only to lose to Ottawa, which would be the end of an era.

Parker was an All-Star for his first eight seasons in the league before, with his knees wrecked, he was traded to Toronto in a deal which had a similar effect then as Wayne Gretzky being sold to Los Angeles would have years later.

Parker passed for 16,476 yards, scored 88 touchdowns, kicked 103 converts, 40 field goals and 19 singles for 750 points.

AWARDS IN ABUNDANCE

After winning the three Grey Cups in a row he went on to win three Schenley Awards as outstanding player in succession and would be named Schenley's 'Player of the Quarter Century.'

After his career he became an assistant coach with the B.C. Lions.

The Legend of Jackie Parker would add another chapter when, with the Lions as an assistant in 1968, he was forced to dress as a back-up quarterback due to injury at the age of 36. Another injury, to Paul Brothers, forced Parker into the line-up. Three years after retiring, he was back in business. On his first play, he completed a long pass for a TD.

Becoming head coach of the Lions the following year, Parker ended up as general manager from 1971 to 1975, when he and his head coach and old Eskimo centre Eagle Keys were both fired.

Parker returned to Edmonton two days after his firing and remained an Edmontonian ever since, working for Interprovincial Pipe & Steel and on Eskimo radio broadcasts with Bryan Hall.

He returned as coach of the Eskimos, taking over from Pete Kettela at mid-season, winning his first game as coach 50-21.

Parker coached from midway in the 1983 where he remained until resigning after two games in the 1987 season due to health reasons.

Funeral details are expected to be announced today.


Videos

Photos