Parker protected Unitas; All-Pro eight straight seasons
BALTIMORE -- Jim Parker, a Hall of Fame lineman with the Baltimore Colts who made a career out of masterfully blocking for Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore, died Monday. He was 71.
Parker, the Colts' first pick in the 1957 draft, helped Baltimore win two NFL championships before retiring in 1967. He earned All-Pro honors in eight straight seasons, was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and in 1973 became the first full-time offensive lineman to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
"When that big guy pulled," Moore said Monday, "someone was going to hit the ground. Nobody was better at his position -- both of them."
Parker spent half his career at left tackle and the other half at left guard, manning both positions with equal effectiveness. Unitas, Moore and Raymond Berry got most of the accolades when the Colts won titles in 1958 and 1959, but Parker, who wore No. 77, was a key component of that offense.
"Parker was a decapitating blocker who lusted for defensive blood," former Colts defensive lineman Art Donovan wrote in his book, "Fatso."
Parker died after a lengthy bout with diabetes, according to Moore, who was at his longtime friend's bedside Monday when he passed away.
"Obviously, he was more than just a teammate to me," Moore said.
The 6-foot-3, 273-pound Parker came to the Colts after a stellar career at Ohio State during which he won the Outland Trophy and was twice named to the first-team All-America squad. He played offense and defense for the Buckeyes but was immediately told to focus on his blocking in Baltimore.
His primary role was to protect Unitas, who evolved into one of the game's greatest quarterbacks.
Parker didn't do much pass blocking for the run-oriented Buckeyes, but Colts coach Weeb Ewbank made him the team's starting left tackle with this priority: Do not let the defense get hold of Unitas.
"He told me, 'You can be the most unpopular man on the team if the quarterback gets hurt,' " Parker once said. "I couldn't forget that."
Parker was also responsible for opening holes for Moore, who ran for 5,174 yards and scored 113 touchdowns during a Hall of Fame career.
"To get to me, you had to get through Jim Parker," Moore said. "He protected me."
Parker was born on April 3, 1934, in Macon, Ga. He began his career at Ohio State on defense but, after helping the Buckeyes beat Southern California in the 1955 Rose Bowl, was moved to offensive guard. His coach, Woody Hayes, called Parker "the best offensive lineman I have ever coached" and presented Parker at his induction into the Hall of Fame.
"We are deeply saddened by the news of Jim's passing," Hall of Fame president John Bankert said. "He was without a doubt one of the greatest linemen of not only his era but of all-time."
During Parker's career at OSU, the Buckeyes won two Big Ten titles and a national title and went 23-5.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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