Spaghetti smiles

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Jackie Parker was Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton before The Great One was born. He was Edmonton's first sports superstar.

There are football people who went to their graves believing Parker was the greatest football player they'd ever watched in any league at any time. But as great as he was as a player, Jackie Parker is going to his grave being remembered as an even greater guy.

Parker died at 6:30 a.m. yesterday of throat cancer after a long illness.

"In the end I was relieved for him," said son Jack Jr. "He'd been in and out of hospital five times. The last few hours were very painful and difficult for him."

Jackie Parker may not have died with a smile on his face but he had to know that only hours after his passing people would be smiling at the memories.

It was like that for Normie Kwong.

"We were like brothers," said Alberta's Lt. Gov. "We had a lot of fun. Funny the things you remember on a day like today. I remember on off days, Jack would be knocking on the door of the apartment where I roomed with John Tatum at 9 a.m., ready to play cards. I had to come down in my pyjamas just to get a seat at the poker game at the table in my own apartment."

Oh, they all talked about the football great. But even those stories came with smiles.

"There are so many stories. I remember a game in Calgary when our kicker was hurt and we'd tried a few other guys including me," said Kwong.

"Finally it was the last play of the game and we were down by one or two points and Jackie came in to kick it. It wobbled and kind of landed on the crossbar and finally just sort of sat there before it fell over for us to win the game. That was Jackie Parker. He was a quarterback, a halfback, a defensive back and a kicker, sometimes all in the same game for the whole game. And he'd usually find a way to win.

"When you talk about great players, he was the greatest," said Kwong. "He was a guy who could do everything. He wasn't the best passer, best runner, best defensive back or best kicker. But he did them all. He was the guy who his team-mates were always convinced, would somehow find a way to win."

Don Getty, the former Alberta premier, said Jackie was a star but never carried himself that way.

"Jack didn't need to be the star," he said. "He made sensational plays all the time, but he believed he was going to win and just exuded it. He made us all believe it, too."

Getty was soon smiling, too.

"I was his roommate for eight years. When I came here I didn't drink. When I became Jackie's roommate, I said 'I better learn.' "

Getty inducted Parker, Bright, Kwong and Miles to the Eskimos' Wall of Honour together a few years back.

"Rollie Miles thought of it as a career. Johnny Bright thought of it as a war. Normie Kwong thought of it as a way to promote his laundry business. Jackie Parker thought of it as something to get out of the way so he could get on with his evening," said Getty.

Parker, as was the case on the field, was leader of the fun off it.

"We used to dress in the hotels on the road and Jackie and Normie used to play cards right up until the bus left. They used to drive coach Pop Ivy crazy. They were sitting there in their uniforms still playing cards and Pop was waiting for them to get on the bus," said Getty. "They'd bet each other on anything. Which elevator came down first. They'd each pick a rain drop on the top of the window and bet which one would get to the bottom the first."

Modern era fans remember Parker more as the head coach of the team, replacing Pete Kettela after the Labour Day game in 1983.

"That was my first year," said Blake Dermott yesterday at the gathering.

"I remember him talking to the team prior to the next game against the Stampeders. He said in that southern drawl of his 'Well, we got Calgary this week. The last time we played Calgary we lost the game and the coach got fired. We don't want that to happen again.' "

Parker was responsible for the start of Gizmo Williams's career.

"He was my first head coach. He came to me one day in training camp and said 'We don't rightly know where to put you. We can't really find a spot for you. All I know, though, is that we're going to find a spot for you," said Gizmo. "I returned a punt in my first game for a TD and he said 'Well, you can do that for now.' "

It was impossible not to enjoy Jackie Parker. Knowing him was even better than watching him. He was one of the greatest guys you'd ever want to meet.


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