Is Jackie Parker still the greatest football player of all-time?

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?


The way everyone has talked about him both during and after his career, he must have been amazing. I wish I got to see him play.

Sorry, but for me Warren Moon will always be the top Eskimo and greatest football player of all-time just a little ahead of Walter Payton.

Moon passed for 70,553 yards, 435 TD’s in 23 years of pro football with 9 Pro-Bowls, Offensive MVP in the AFC and NFL, MOP in the Grey Cup and CFL MOP. The best that ever played the game IMHO.

Warren Moon? Didn’t he eventually choose to play American football?

And who’s this Walter Payton? Was this the guy who had a cup of coffee with the Windsor Rockets of the ORFU in the late 1940’s? Was he really that good?


I voted “yes” to the question which I interpreted as “the greatest CFL football player of all-time”.

Meanwhile, the greatest football player I have seen in my lifetime, in any league — they called him “Sweetness”.

Fritzie Hanson? Bummer Stirling? Red Storey?


And what about Gary Ablett of the Geelong Cats? Where does he stand on your all-time list then?


One of my favourite pictures of a young Jackie Parker:

Parker with a long career here was a legend for the CFL for years to come it’s too bad the youth don’t know how good he was like our NHL veterans .

Great to read those stories about him.
Parker owned a pool hall and bowling alley in Vancouver in the 70’s

Easily the best player (mostly based on his incredible 2-way versatility) to ever don a CFL uniform. Leo Lewis, George Reed, Warren Moon and Doug Flutie would be the main contenders.

Next tier - Mike Pringle, Johnny Bright, Wayne Harris, Matt Dunigan, Willy Fleming, Tyrone Jones, John Helton, few more.

fwiw - down south it was Jim Brown

P.S. All-Canadian QB Russ Jackson, who’s still alive 'n kicking at age 82 should be in my 2nd tier, just behind the monster great ones!

That’s an impressive bio. Sounds like JP should be in the conversation. But I don’t think a question like this can ever be definitively answered.

Moon would have a stronger case if he was considered the best player at the time he was playing. During his six years in the CFL, QBs won the MOP award four times. Once it was Moon, twice Brock, once Holloway.

In contrast, after his first season, Flutie won it every year he was healthy. And it was never even close.

Did they call him Spaghetti Legs because they were wobbly? Or because they were skinny and pale?

There’ll never be another “Ole’ Spaghetti Legs” Parker who was a sheer joy to watch. (I believe he earned his nickname because he was so shifty in the open field, his legs seemed to be going in different directions). But I’d thought Jackie was the assistant G.M, not coach, when he suited upat QBfor the Lions due to injuries?

Speaking of Warren Moon, he was named a Western All-Star in only once in his six years in Edmonton. He was a terrific player but I guess the pundits thought others were better at the time (Jerry Tagge 1977; Tom Wilkinson 1978/79; Dieter Brock 1980/81/82; Warren Moon 1983).

But nobody today will likely ever touch Moon’s 15.5 yd career passing average. He seeminglycouldput the big-fat J5V into orbit! (Ottawa’s Russ Jackson had a 18.2 yd career avg. 1958-69.)

Pale, skinny, wobbly and elusive as all hell!

Here's an excellent write-up published on Jackie Parker after his death:

Jackie Parker Passes Away - Globe and Mail


This is the best I can do on a right now basis:

Or an assistant coach perhaps?


I started watching the CFL forerunner (WIFU) in 1954 and still do. IMHO, Jackie Parker was the greatest player ever to play in Canada…and there have been many, many great ones, so that’s saying a lot. He could do everything…run with the ball as a HB and QB, pass, kick, play defence (even from the start…1954 Grey Cup, Chuck Hunsinger). Much of the reason I believe he has consistently topped the polls as the greatest ever is the aura that he generated. He had a very likable personality. It was like the aura that developed around another famous person who first hit the big stage in 1954, Elvis Presley. Both were from the US South-East. Ironically, Jackie was born in Tennessee and first gained fame in Mississippi (Mississippi State), while Elvis was born in Mississippi and gained his first fame in Tennessee.

I have been watching CFL football since the mid 1950’s and I am probably one of the few on this site who actually saw Parker play. I cannot comment on players that may have played prior to Parker but he is without doubt the greatest all-round player, I have seen. He wasn’t the best quarterback, the best half back, the best kick returner, the best kicker, the best receiver or the best defensive back, but when you combine it all together, he was simply the best.

A few years ago they had a contest to name the greatest CFl player of all time. That one was won by Doug Flutie, (who would be my pick for greatest quarterback). A friend of mine was on the panel that Made that selection and he told me that although Flutie was chosen by the majority on the panel, panelists who were old enough to have seen Parker play chose him by a wide margin.

If I could chose a second greatest player of all time, it would be Kenny Ploen.

I ran into Jackie Parker at a VIP event at Edmonton’s Horse Race Track a few years before he died. I told him it was a honour to meet him, that I was a long time CFL fan and that I was still involved in the game as an official.

He gave me a blank stare, looked at his bet on the 5th race, belched and wandered away without a word.

Glad I didn’t tell him I grew up in Winnipeg…