Remembering Hall Of Famer Jim Parker

By Tony McClean
Updated: July 19, 2005

Jim Parker

JIm Parker

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — For African-American fans of the great Baltimore Colt teams of the 1950’s, the last few months have not been kind. Earlier this year, longtime corner back Johnny Sample passed away at the age of 67 in April.

Just last week, former Presidential advisor Arthur Fletcher passed away at the age of 80. Fletcher, dubbed as “the father of affirmative action,” was the the first African-American player to wear the famous horseshoe helmet.

And now, just a few days ago legendary offensive line Jim Parker died after a lengthy bout with diabetes. The Ohio State standout was the Colts’ first pick in the 1957 draft. He helped Baltimore win two NFL titles before retiring in 1967.

In 1973, Parker became the first full-time offensive lineman to be elected to the Hall of Fame. His induction helped pave the way for other standout lineman like Roosevelt Brown, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, and Jackie Slater to join him in Canton.

When Parker came to Ohio State, he started his career as a great defensive lineman using his athleticism to make plays on the 1954 national championship team helping the Buckeyes to dominate USC in the 1955 Rose Bowl.

The 250-pound Parker was not only big, but he used his rare athleticism and technique to pave the way for tailback Howard “Hopalong” Cassady leading him to the Heisman Trophy in 1955 In 1956, Parker became the first African-American college football player to win the Outland Trophy as the best linebacker in America. Then Parker was moved over to the offensive line where he became one of the best guards to ever play the game and praised by Woody Hayes as “the best offensive lineman I ever coached.”

In Parker’s career, the Buckeyes won two Big Ten titles, a national title, and went 23-5 during his career. Parker, who was born in Macon, Georgia, played his last two years of high school football in Toledo, Ohio and was the Buckeyes’ MVP in 1956.

From the moment he joined the Colts as their first-round draft pick in 1957, Big Jim was considered a cinch for pro football stardom. Although his college coach thought his best shot in the pros would be on defense, Colts’ coach Weeb Ewbank tabbed Jim as an offensive lineman.

Parker didn’t disappoint as he was named a All Pro for eight straight years. He has been considered one of the greatest pass blockers in NFL history while protecting quarterback Johnny Unitas on the way to NFL championships in 1958 and 1959. He also played in eight Pro Bowls along the way.

The fact that he was assigned to protect such a famous teammate may explain why Parker seemed to attract more publicity than is usually accorded to offensive linemen.

Another reason is that he was such an exceptional craftsman. In an out-of-the-ordinary twist, Jim divided his career almost evenly between left tackle and left guard.

As a tackle, he went head-to-head against the faster, more agile defensive ends. At guard, his daily foes were the bigger and stronger defensive tackles. Parker handled both positions in all-pro fashion. At left tackle he earned All-Pro honors four straight times from 1958 to 1961.

In the middle of the 1962 season he was moved to left guard and at year’s end was named All-Pro at both tackle and guard. He then followed up with three straight seasons of earning All-Pro accolades at guard (1963 to 1965).

After not having missed a game in his first 10 seasons, Parker was hampered by injuries in 1967 and he retired after that season. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973, he became the first “pure” offensive lineman enshrined at Canton.

Ironically the year Parker went in the HOF, he was joined by one of his longtime teammates from those Colt teams of the 1950’s — wide receiver Raymond Berry In addition to being a charter member of the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame, Parker is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as well.

NOTE: The Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame contributed to this story.