Jackie Parker
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The magic Jackie Parker brought to Edmonton and turned into legend came to a rest early this morning.

Voted the Canadian Football League's greatest player of the 1950-to-1975 era - regarded by many as the greatest of all time - Parker died today at the age of 74.

"The city has lost a great citizen," Hugh Campbell, the Eskimos' retiring CEO, said in a prepared statement. "The Eskimo family mourns the loss of Jack and our thoughts are with Jack's immediate family."

During his playing career, Parker played running back, quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. If that wasn't enough, he also punted and kicked converts and field goals.

"If you put him at guard he would have been great," Frankie Morris, former Eskimo guard and then director of player personnel, once said.

No doubt it would have been true. The man was an orchestra, playing strings, woodwinds and percussion. Moreover, he was also the conductor.

"He was the greatest leader there's ever been in the CFL," said Morris. "It was an amazing feeling. We would go into the dressing room at halftime, down 14 points, with no question that we were going to win. In the other dressing room they were just wondering when he was going to do it."

Bob Dean thought the same.

"If we were in trouble we didn't even worry," the former Eskimo tackle once marvelled. "We were convinced it was only a matter of time before Jackie was going to pull us out. And 99 per cent of the time he did."

Three times the CFL's most outstanding player, Parker was also named the Western Conference most outstanding player seven of the nine years he played in Edmonton.

In 2000, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix ran a poll to select the top 50 players in league history. Parker was first; Doug Flutie second.

"He could do so many more things than Flutie," said former CFL commissioner Jake Gaudaur, one of the voters, who, in one way or another, spent his life in football.

The legend began for Edmonton fans when the 22-year-old Parker and his skinny legs came to the Eskimos from Mississippi State in 1954. At that time the Eskimos were still a struggling franchise, only once advancing to the Grey Cup game and never having won it.

Parker immediately led them to a 11-5 record, a win over Winnipeg in the best two-out-of three Western final, a win over Kitchener-Waterloo in the Grey Cup semifinal and, finally, a berth in the Grey Cup game that year in Toronto against the heavily favoured Montreal Alouettes.

With just over three minutes left in the game, the situation appeared as bleak as the curdled November Toronto sky for Parker and the Esks. On their way to putting up a record 656 yards of total offence, the Alouettes were not only leading, they once again had the ball deep in Eskimos territory.

The Eskimos' Rollie Miles had finally cried uncle from the searing pain of ribs that had separated on the opening kickoff. Miles sat on the bench beside Eagle Keys who played three quarters of the game on a broken leg. On the field, Ray Willsey continued with a broken arm. Parker played with a chipped instep bone in his right ankle, which needed a dulling shot of novocaine at halftime, and a twisted, sprained left knee.

Then Parker waved his wand. Chuck Hunsinger fumbled; Parker scooped it up, returning it 84 yards for the winning touchdown in a shocking 26-25 win.

Parker led the Eskimos back to the Grey Cup in Vancouver in 1955 as well, once again against Montreal. Sam Etcheverry, the Alouettes' strong-armed quarterback, threw for a record 508 yards. It wasn't enough.

Playing quarterback, Parker only completed eight of 16 passes for 128 yards. But he also ran for 69 yards, took the kickoff and intercepted one of Etcheverry's passes. Other than that, a quiet afternoon in a 34-19 triumph.

In 1956, Montreal and Edmonton were back at it at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. Miffed at once again being the underdogs, the Eskimos won 50-27. With Don Getty now playing quarterback, Parker set a Grey Cup record scoring 19 points. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry, he rushed for 129 yards, kicked a convert and scored three touchdowns to match the three touchdown passes he caught in the Western final.

"The biggest advantage I had was that I had Parker at halfback," Getty once said. "Parker couldn't have Parker at halfback."

Dan Kelly, a former broadcaster in St. Louis, once told a story of six St. Louis Cardinal football coaches arguing late into the night. One of the questions put up for discussion was: Who would you want on the field if it was fourth down at the five yard line and you had to get the ball into the end zone?

One coach said Jim Brown, whose name was immediately seconded. A third said Joe Namath. The other three all said Jackie Parker.

Perhaps the best option quarterback anywhere, anytime, Parker scored 750 points. He ran for 88 touchdowns, threw another 88 touchdowns passes, kicked 40 field goals - five in one game - and added 103 converts. He rushed for 5,210 yards - running for an average of 6.1 yards - passed for 16,476 yards and caught passes for 2,308 more yards.

About the only thing he didn't do was snap the ball to himself.

"He'd give ya the old swivel-hip job and you'd end up flat on your face," Hall of Fame lineman Don Luzzi was quoted as saying. "There was something mystical about him."

Mystical and magical. Houdini with cleats, he really was magic. If you turned your head, averted your eyes for just a second, he would seem to disappear. Then, just like that, he would appear someplace else: either out of the grasp of a defender or in that perfect position to take a pass, haul in an interception or pick up a fumble.

And now, the way all great magicians leave us when the show is over, the drapes drawn and all the rabbits back in their hats, we are still left in awe, still wondering how in the world he ever did it.

Parker smoked too much; he drank too much.

His gait looked like a chimpanzee falling out of a tree, those two chopsticks for legs seeming to go in six directions all at once.

His passes lurched like drunks spilling out of a bar at closing time, a fact Parker never tried to hide.

"I always said the thing they did to the CFL ball that really bothered me the most was put the stripe on it," Parker once said. "After they did that everybody could see how bad it wobbled when I threw it."

Parker was born on New Year's Day, 1932, in a little red shack atop Cherry Ridge in Knoxville, Tenn., with the name John Dickerson Flanagan. His mother remarried, taking the name of her new husband, Carroll Parker.

Parker never even played much football until his senior high school year and went to Mississippi State on a baseball scholarship, getting a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds.

Yet with the Bulldogs, Parker was twice the Southeastern Conference's outstanding player. In 1952 he led all NCAA Division 1 players scoring 120 points. That year, Mississippi State got into the red zone - inside the opposition's 25-yard line - 27 times. They scored touchdowns 26 times.

Still surprised three St. Louis Cardinal coaches named Parker as the player they wanted on the field with the game on the line? Or, surprised all six didn't pick Parker?

When Parker came to Edmonton, weighing 175 pounds, he figured it would only be for one year. Then he'd go back to Tennessee and get a real job.

Instead, Ol' Spaghetti Legs set record after record and became one of the greatest of them all, doing it all with an ah-shucks, Southern smile and a simple "ah-it-was-nothing" wave of his hand. He never sought out attention; nobody remembers hearing him complain.

But he sure knew how to have fun.

After winning the 1954 Grey Cup, old-teammate Dean remembered being in the dining room of Toronto's Royal York Hotel "ordering the biggest meal on the menu."

"I'm sitting there enjoying it when Parker stops in the middle of a mouthful and says it's a shame to be sitting here eating like this when others not so fortunate as ourselves are starving.

"All of a sudden Jack gets up and disappears. A few minutes later he comes back and he's dragged a dozen derelicts in off the street. They ate like kings."

And when it was time to pay for the bill, Parker signed Eskimo general manager Al Anderson's name.

When he first came to Edmonton, he got nicknames like the Fast Freight from Mississippi State and the Mississippi Gambler. The latter was accurate not only for the chances he took on the field - Parker liked to have a few dollars riding on golf and gin rummy.

And if there wasn't any golf or gin rummy, he and teammate Normie Kwong - now Alberta's Lieutenant Governor - would invariably find something to wager on, whether it was which elevator would stop first or which bag would arrive first at the airport.

"I remember one day it was so miserable outside that there just wasn't anything to do," Getty, who remained a close friend, recalled a few years ago.

"Normie and Jackie just sat there and stared out of the window. All of a sudden one of them says, 'Ten dollars on the raindrops and I got this one.' "

Parker's first contract with Edmonton paid him $9,500 plus a $500 bonus. At the end of his first season, New York Giants owner Wellington Mara personally came calling with an $18,000 contract.

But, for $3,000 less, Parker chose to stay in Edmonton. Why? Because Peggy, the girl he married in high school and with whom they would have three children - Jackie Jr., Peggy Mae and Jerri-Jo - said she liked Edmonton better.

Rewriting the record books through his nine years in Edmonton, Parker was traded to the Toronto Argonauts in February of 1963. The Wayne Gretzky deal of its time, Parker was traded for five players - halfbacks Joe Hernandez and Mike Wicklum, kicker Bill Mitchell, guard Zeke Smith, defensive back Jon Rechner - and $15,000.

"If there is such a thing as a good trade for Jackie Parker, I think we made it," said Joe Ryan, Edmonton's general manager.

"Any quarterback coming in (to Edmonton) I suppose is like trying to coach in Green Bay after Vince Lombardi."

Parker's three years in Toronto were disappointing. His knees were shot, filled with binder twine and glue. He retired in 1966. The following year he became head coach of the Toronto Rifles of the Continental League, where Tom Wilkinson was his quarterback.

The Continental League wasn't for Parker. When told they would fly to all their games only to have a bus waiting to take them to their first game, Parker resigned. The next year he went to B.C. as the Lions' assistant coach.

"The first time I saw him was in 1967 when he came to coach the Toronto Rifles of the Continental League," said Wilkinson, later a quarterback for the Eskimos. "I heard he was the greatest CFL player of all time. Heard all the stories. And then I saw him and those skinny legs of his, smoking a cigarette and shuffling along. I said, 'This guy was great? Come on.'

"Then I saw him play."

Forced to dress as a backup when Pete Ohler was hurt midway through the 1968 season, Parker, three years out of football and 36 years old, was pressed into service when the regular backup, Paul Brothers, also got injured.

Watching on television, Wilkinson said his eyes grew wide as pie plates as Parker stepped behind the porous offensive line of a brutal Lions team.

On Parker's first play, he completed a long pass for a first down. He was just warming up.

"Three years without throwing a football, and you can imagine how little training he probably did, he took a snap and started running to the left," said Wilkinson. "Then he went right. Then left. Then right again. Then he ran down the sidelines. I swear every defender missed him at least twice.

"At the end of the game, a TV announcer asked him how it felt to be playing again. Jackie couldn't get a word out - he was gasping too hard.

"When I saw that, I knew this guy had to be absolutely unbelievable when he was in his prime."

In 1969, Parker became the Lions head coach replacing Jim Champion. Two years later he was the club's general manager. But things went sour in 1975. After the Lions lost 34-10 to Edmonton, Parker and his head coach Eagle Keys were both fired.

Parker moved back to Edmonton and took a public relations job working for Interprovincial Pipe and Steel Co. He also kept his hand in football, doing radio colour commentary with Bryan Hall.

In 1983 it was the Eskimos that were in trouble. Just after Labour Day, Edmonton fired head coach Pete Kettela and brought in Parker.

"Jackie and I have a contract that if it doesn't work I kill him," joked executive manager Norm Kimball.

Soon after Parker's hiring, CHED radio morning man Wes Montgomery started playing a parody of an old '60s tune that went "Hey la, hey laaaaa, Jackie's back."

In Parker's first game as head coach, the Eskimos won 50-21.

The legend had come home.

But in 1987 he couldn't go on. The Eskimos were 2-0, but Parker's health kept getting worse. At various times it was his stomach, his knees, gout, pleurisy and eventually ulcers.

Parker forced himself to resign.

"Certainly I'll miss being away from it, not being on the field, not being around the other coaches and the players," said Parker.

Now it's our turn.

The man we will miss.

The legend goes on forever.

Jackie Parker's Awards and Honours:
Grey Cup Victories - 1954, 1955, 1956
Schenley for CFL's Most Outstanding Player - 1957, 1958, 1960
CFL All-Star - 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961
Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy (West Division's Most Outstanding Player) - 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961
Dave Dryburgh Memorial Trophy (Top Scorer in West Division) - 1959, 1961
CFL Hall of Fame - 1971
Edmonton Eskimo Wall of Honour - 1983
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame - 1987
Mississippi State University Hall of Fame - 1972
Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame - 1972
College Football Hall of Fame - 1976

Published in National Post on Nov. 7, 2006.
Not sure what to say?
50 entries
June 3, 2018
Jackie Parker was my dad favorite player. I have a prudential print signed by Jackie which I cherish..
June 3, 2018
Jackie Parker was my dad favorite player. I have a prudential print signed by Jackie which I cherish..
Dave Campbell
April 1, 2017
My name is Jackie Parker. I just read about Jackie so I will learn more about him. I was QB in High School 1957-1960.
Yakima WA
Jackie L Parker
December 26, 2016
August 3, 2016
I wish I could have seen him in his prime . That's my first recollection of foot ball my dad talking about Jackie Parker
Dennis Stewart
October 27, 2008
Our deepest consolences for your loss. Patrick introduced my wife and I over 20 years ago and we are trying to reach him. If anyone in the Parker family knows how to reach Patrick T. Parker, please get a message to him. Please ask him to call our home at (239) 389-0396. Once again, Jackie seems to have been a fantastic person judging from what everyone has to say about him.
ed issler
January 6, 2008
Was in school with Jackie at Jones Jr College and not only was he a super football player, but a better person.
Jim McCoy
September 3, 2007
Heartfelt regards at your loss. I have great memories of Jackie from Jones County Junior College (1951-1953).

Vice-President: Sophomore Class-1953
Harvey Huddleston, M.D.
December 31, 2006
To the Parker Clan:
I know Jackie was born January 1st -- the same day as Paul Revere.
I'll always toast him on that day as he was our Paul Revere of the CFL West.
He was the greatest and I hope someone follows up on the study of his life. Thanks for the opportunity to speak.

Bruce Christie
Bruce Christie
December 5, 2006
If Jackie had a serious thought as a youngster, it never showed. He was always relaxed, smiling and enjoying life. It wasn't until high school that Jackie's talents began to appear ... but he made them count once he got the opportunity. I was quite disappointed that he wasn't selected as the all-time greatest to play in the CFL in a recent poll. Certainly the two who finished ahead of Jackie were talented and had great statistics, but no one who I'm aware off did so many things -- offensively, defensively or kicking. Some of the basics he learned in our neighborhood pickup games and playing "puntback" on the elementary school field near his family's house. I was surprisingly stunned to read so many columnists in Canada describe Jackie's attributes and tell some great, great stories -- all of which I have no doubt are true. I knew Jackie's mother, stepfather and brother. With Jackie's passing, no one remains from that immediate family. Knowing and playing amateur sports with Jackie was always fun, and he most always put on a show. It was great to have known Jackie and his family.

Roland Julian
Knoxville, Tn.
Roland Julian
November 20, 2006
The Bob Wester family in South Knoxville, Tennessee express their sincere condolences. "Bobby" and Carroll were first cousins.
Patti Wester-Kelley
November 18, 2006
In a world of superstars there are few real heros. Jackie Parker was a superhero.
Brad Hestbak
November 15, 2006
I am a Winnipegger who cheered for our Bombers whenever we played the Eskimos. Yet I assure you that Jackie Parker was to become my all-time favourite athlete.
He was so creative, original, special. I loved watching him play and would run to watch any reruns of his plays.
When I wrote him a fan letter, he answered it and sent a painting of his 1954 touchdown gallop. (He played that game injured, but you'd never know.) God bless him; he made life better for all of us.

Bruce Christie
bruce christie
November 15, 2006
To the Parker Family:
Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss. I was born about the same time Jackie left for Mississippi and never had the opportunity to meet him. But, I do have the stories shared with me by his uncle(my grandfather) and my dad. My prayers are with all of you.
Phil Flanagan
November 13, 2006
To all of Jackie's friends and family: We are so very grateful for all of your thoughts and prayers. The love and support you have shown us has been very comforting. We appreciate it very much, thanks again. The Jackie Parker Family.
All the Parkers
November 13, 2006
I had the great blessing to have my Uncle Jack all of my life. It used to amaze me how nobody in the states really knew who he was, but when I asked a Canuck if they know who Jackie Parker was, their eyes would light up and they would inevitable tell the Hunsinger fumble or another great story. Getting to meet Normie, Don, and others was a blast. You are going to be sorely missed Uncle Jack, you were the greatest Uncle a nephew could ever have and I thank GOD you were mine. Role Model, Patriarch, and teacher you are indeed "THE GREATEST" XOXOXOXO Patrick T.
Patrick T. Parker
November 10, 2006
"Jackie Parker"
Your speed was like the wind,
Your passes were like lightning,
Your touchdowns were like thunder,
Your kindness was like sunshine.

This was felt,seen,heard and will be warmly remembered across the nation.

My condolences to Jack jr and family.

Friend and past co-worker

Bob van Essen.
Bob van Essen
November 10, 2006
To all in the Parker family, as well as his friends, and felllow fans: I send my deep heart felt condelences at this time of grief and sorrow.
Terry Erickson
November 10, 2006
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
November 10, 2006
He was my childhood hero. There wasn't anything he couldn't do on the football field and in life. My deepest heartfelt sympathies to Jackie's family and friends. I feel I've lost a member of my family and I pray Ole Spaghetti Legs is playing golf with my dad, Art Wiebe, right now. God bless you all!
Lois Kingsford
November 10, 2006
To a very good friend from Knoxville and JCJC. Love to the
Robert K. Smith
November 10, 2006
Dear Parker Family,
Pat and I were very sorry to hear of the passing of Jackie. We were very fortuante to have known Jackie for a number of years both as a player and a friend. Please accept our heartfelt condolences and we wish you all well.
Dick and Pat Chrobak
November 10, 2006
Jackie is part of the memories of a 9 year old year Air Force brat, who, with my friends Candy and Judy, even saw the inside of Frank (Pop) Ivy’s home, when calling on his daughter to come out and play. I could sense great maleness in that home, and that was amazing since I was an only child, a girl. I knew nothing about football, but everyone was talking about Jackie Parker, and I was greatly aware of him, to the extent that when he scored the winning goal that year, Candy and I stamped a huge picture of a football player’s face and helmet in the snow on someone’s front yard in celebration of Jackie's winning touchdown.

The years go by and we almost don’t notice them, until our heroes pass away and our own sense of mortality begins to beckon us. And the tender memories soften our souls and we know we will follow our heroes into Eternity.

Miss you Jackie, miss you Candy and Judy. Be seeing you,
Marjory Lund
November 10, 2006
Jackie, you were not only the greatest to ever play our game, you were a wonderful man as well. I will always deeply appreciate the many kindnesses you showed to the guy from Medicine Hat.
Graham Kelly
November 10, 2006
Frederick Neville
November 10, 2006
You made the game so exciting, and it was those very exciting games that made me a fan. We became solid Edmonton Eskimo Fans, braving our cold and rainy games. The people in the surrounding area became our "Football Famillies". The kids were in the "KnotHole" Gang and to this day love the game.
Thank you for making Edmonton a city to be noticed, and for all the many people you made as fans! I send my family's condolences, to your proud family. They have much to treasure!
Joan Currie
November 10, 2006
Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this time.
Luzzi children
November 9, 2006
Jere Jo, Jack & Family
Our thoughts are with you all at this time of great loss.
Marilyn & Ralph Wentland
November 9, 2006
Will forever cherish the memories.
John & Margaret Chorney
November 9, 2006
Our thoughts and condolences are with all of you. We hope that all of the good memories will always be with you. He was a friend to many, but will always be your dad and grandpa.
Sharon, Stan and Sarah Semeniuk
November 9, 2006
Jere Jo & Family
Scott & I would like to express our deepest sympathy during this difficult time. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.
Scott & Marilyn MacAulay
November 9, 2006
jackie parker was a true football hero.as he led the eskimos to many great victories the fondest was the famous fumble recovery in the 1954 grey cup.as i look through my step dad's "old football cards"jackies card was and is the most seen throughout.jackie is remembered by the young and old.as i am 11 years old.the great picture as my step dad may call it,which is signed by the great himself is a memorial upon our living room today.my thoughts go out to the parker family.he is in a place inamaginable now,no more hurting.
melinda mousseau 11,of ottawa ont.
melinda mousseau
November 9, 2006
Heartfelt condolences to Peggy & family from the family of the late Betty & Charlie Shore. They always remembered Edmonton as a wonderful time in their lives and where they made lifelong friends through football and curling. I remember your visits when you moved to Oakville and we were back in Toronto. And I will always think of Jackie when I hear "King of the Road." Once again, my sincere sympathies,
Barbara Shore
Barbara Shore
November 9, 2006
Coming from a football family, I appreciated the skill level of this outstanding player. Jackie was a high achiever on the grid-iron, truly one of the best who ever played the game.
Robert Grey Rowe
November 9, 2006
My condolances go out to the Kin of Jackie Parker. I thouroughly enjoyed hearing the semi finals & Grey Cup on radio & then on TV. Even when the Bombers came out on the loosing end. What a career! Thanks Jackie.
November 9, 2006
our depest sympathy to the family,i have known jack for a longtime through frienship and the famous bater club.I always looked forward to our thursday meetings and I miss them very much.may god bless him.
ed (buck) tercier
November 9, 2006
Growing up in Edmonton and watching Jackie and the rest of the Esk's from the Knot Hole Gang Section was a great thrill. Even though I am living in Winnipeg since 1979, Esk's are still #1. Condolences to the family.
Nick Slywka
November 9, 2006
From one who enjoyed life and the pursuit of Grey Cups with Jackie and the Eskimos from 1955 to 1960, I wish I could join everyone at his memorial service on Friday. My thoughts and prayers will be with Jackie's family and his many friends.
Keith Rolfe
November 9, 2006
I was so sorry to hear of your loss. The thoughts of many are with you at this time of sorrow.
Rick & Peggy Bell
November 9, 2006
Our sympathies to you and your family.
Louis & Betty Spronken
Betty Spronken
November 9, 2006
Deepest condolences to Jack and the rest of your family. Your dad was known by all... even those of us who never had the chance to meet him! May he rest in peace!
Janet Perkins (nee Ellis)
November 9, 2006
Our hearts are with you Jack Jr and family.May God bless Jackie and your whole family.
Kathy & Grant Lakusta
November 9, 2006
Jackie was one of the best, his name will always be synonomous with football in Canada, sincerest condolences to family and friends
Tom McPherson
November 9, 2006
Like so many kids growing up in Edmonton, I was a big fan of Jackie Parker, My dad took me to a game when he was playing and I saw a great football player who could play in any protion on the field. All my prayes go to the Packer family.
John Harvey
November 9, 2006
Canada has lost a great friend. I have known Jackie for 30 years as a football guy, a golfer, a wonderful story teller, a great friend, and a guy who was always the life of the party, and the last person to leave the party. He was simply genuine-what you saw was what you got and what you got was the best.
Bob Hughes
November 8, 2006
Oh to be young, and an Eskimo fan, and have Jackie parker at QB inisde the twenty yard line, where he was the best ever, anywhere.
I only saw two athletes who rate with Jackie, Maurice Richard, and Pancho Gonzales.
His loss is deeply felt by all Edmontonians, he was our guy, sweet to watch, and so much fun to cheer on to victory.
Deepest condolences to his family.
duncan cameron
November 8, 2006
Growing up in Edmonton, Jackie was my first football hero. My condolenses to all his family.
Sandi Fowler
November 8, 2006
My condolences to the Parker family.I played my last game against Jackie and the Eskimos in a playoff series in 1954. He was a great guy and athlete. He will be missed.
Neill Armstrong
November 8, 2006
HE truly was worth the price of admission alone.There may never be another like him.
Brian Thorold
November 8, 2006
Jackie came into my life in two different ways. The first was, as a kid, cheering him and the great Eskimo team from my Knot Hole Gang bench.

My father brought my sister Lynne and me in from St. Albert to watch their games.

Some years later when Jackie played his last years of football with The Toronto Argo's we curled on the same team competitively for two years in the Toronto Master's Curling League. He was an enjoyable teammate, naturally competitive, an inspiration, and always pleasant and sociable.

Our time together, though short, is a memory that I cherish in many different ways.

I have not had the opportunity to see much of him since that time and I was saddened to hear that his health has not been the best for some years.

He was one of a kind. And he will be missed by many.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Jackie's family.
Bradley Sumner
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