CFL Hall of Famer Jackie Parker is my favourite football player of all time. He opted to play in Canada after graduating from Mississippi State University in the spring of 1954:
Jackie Parker played for the Eskimos from 1954 to 1962 andthe Toronto Argonauts from 1963 to 1965. He joined the British Columbia Lions as an assistant coach/general managerin 1966 andeven suited up as QB on a fill-in basis for the Lions in 1968. Like many other star players from that era, Parker played both on offence and defence and also served as the Eskimos' placekicker and punter through much of his tenure with the Eskimos.
Parker made the Western Conference's all-star team as a running back in 1954, 1957 and 1959 and as a quarterback in 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1961. He won the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy as the Western Conference's most outstanding player in 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961 and won three Schenley Awards as the CFL's most outstanding player in 1957, 1958 and 1960.
He played in the 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1960 Grey Cup Games with the Eskimos beating the Montreal Alouettes in the first three before losing to the Ottawa Rough Riders in the last.
He took over as head coach of the British Columbia Lions during the 1969 season and held the position through 1970. He was the head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos from 1983 until partway into the 1987 season when he resigned for health reasons.
As a head coach Jackie Parker wasn't prone to giving long motivational speeches. Shortly after taking over the coaching reins with the Eskimos he is remembered to have said "We've got Calgary this week, men. Last time we lost to Calgary and the coach got fired." Then he looked up and said "Don't want that to happen again."
Nor did he think it was necessary to be a harsh disciplinarian. When he caught kick returner extraordinaire Henry "Gizmo" Williams sneaking into the team hotel the morning of a game after a whole night of carousing, Parker merely called Gizmo over and told him to be ready for the game later that day.
Ray Willsey who became an assistant coach in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders among other teams frequently opined "I've seen some pretty good ball players. I've watched Jimmy Brown, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Y.A. Tittle, Otto Graham and Joe Namath. And without reservation, I'm telling you that Jackie Parker was the best football player I've ever seen. That's one hell of a strong statement. But if my career depended on one play and I had the choice of any player I'd ever watched, I'd have a better chance if I gave the ball to Jackie Parker than anyone. He'd find a way.''
Dan Kelly, the late great St. Louis-based hockey broadcaster, once told an Edmonton audience of a discussion involving the St. Louis Cardinals coaching staff. "When the Cardinals were flying high in the early '70s, six of their coaches were playing cards and drinking beer one night and they started arguing about who they'd like to have on their side if it was fourth down at the five yard line and they had to get the ball into the end zone. One said Jim Brown. Another agreed. A third said Joe Namath. The other three said Jackie Parker. One of the coaches picking Parker was Don Coryell, the man who would become famous as head coach of Air Coryell - the San Diego Chargers. Another was Jim Champion, who had been head coach of the B.C. Lions. And the other was Ray Willsey.''
Jackie Parker was known for his love of gambling and partying as well as for his exploits on the field. Said teammate and eventual Alberta premier Don Getty about the Eskimos' games "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.''
Parker was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1971 and died of throat cancer at the age of 74 on 7 November 2006.
I very clearly remember Jackie Parker being voted the CFL's best player of the half century by some august organization in the late 1980's.
So is Jackie Parker still the greatest football player of all-time?