Family, friends and fans remember football great

Friends say goodbye to Jim Parker

July 24, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

Blue and white were the dominant colors at Jim Parker's funeral yesterday.

He lay in a blue casket, which stood in a sea of blue and white floral arrangements, one a Baltimore Colts horseshoe and another bearing his jersey number, 77. Blue and white were the colors of the old Baltimore Colts.

Hundreds of people turned out at New Antioch Baptist Church in Randallstown to pay respects to Parker, a National Football League Hall of Famer who died Monday after suffering from congestive heart failure and kidney disease. He was 71.

During his playing days, Parker, an offensive lineman, earned the nickname "Unitas Protector" because of the pass protection he provided for quarterback Johnny Unitas. His crushing blocks also opened holes for Colts running backs, including his close friend Lenny Moore.

Friends, family members, former teammates and fans of the old Baltimore Colts heard Parker eulogized not only for his bruising play, but also for his generosity and warmth off the field.

"There was never a dull moment with my man Jim," said Moore, who was visiting Parker at Lorien Nursing Home in Columbia when he died.

"Every time I went out to see him, it was fun and games with him; we would just laugh and talk."

Another former Colt, Tom Matte, attributed his success as a running back to Parker's blocking.

"Parker was a special guy to all the guys. There was never an assignment that he did not do a good job," said Matte.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and C. Jack Ellis, mayor of Parker's birthplace of Macon, Ga., also praised him.

Ellis said Parker "will live forever" in the city of Macon. Ellis said he will ask his city council to name a building or street in the player's honor.

Parker played football at Ohio State University and was one of the most sought-after players when he graduated. In 1957, he was drafted by the Colts and earned All-Pro honors in eight consecutive seasons of his eleven total years playing professional football. He was inducted into the NFL's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Parker said he never made more than $35,000 a year during his professional football career. When he retired, he briefly worked for a liquor distributor, and in 1964, he opened a liquor and package goods store at the corner of Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard.

Former Colt George Harold said Parker would always show kindness - and that there was no exception at his store.

"It took a lot of courage for Parker to do the things that he did, and he loved people," Harold said.

On many occasions, Harold said, he would spend time with Parker at the liquor store, witnessing his friend's compassion.

"He would pull a person to the side and whatever they asked for, he would give it to them," Harold said.

Parker worked a 14-hour workday for many of the 33 years that he ran the business. After the decline of the neighborhood and of his health, Parker closed the business in 1999.

Parker fathered 14 children and had 23 grandchildren. During the funeral, one of Parker's grandchildren, a 7-year-old, read a letter she wrote after learning that he died.

It said:

"I am really going to miss you. You were the greatest. It was fun when you pinched my cheeks, gave me a hug and made me laugh."

Fans at the funeral said they looked forward to Sunday afternoons, watching Parker on television, battling rivals such as the Los Angeles Rams' David "Deacon" Jones, another Hall of Famer.

"I just came here to pay my respects," said Merrill Houston, 69, of Baltimore. "He's really inspirational as I used to watch him on TV."

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