Buckeye Great Parker Passes Away

Jim Parker, one of the all-time great offensive linemen and overall players in Ohio State history, passed away earlier today. Details are unknown at this time. Parker played at Ohio State under Woody Hayes and went on to a career in the NFL. Read on for some notes on Jim Parker as well as a reprint of an article on Parker that Bucknuts writer Dave Biddle put together last year.

Jim Parker, OSU's first Outland Trophy award winner, died Monday in Columbia, Md., of congestive heart failure. He was 71.

Early Release from Ohio State on Parker's passing:

Jim Parker was Ohio State's first Outland Trophy winner, winning that award as the nation's top interior lineman in 1956 as a senior.

Coach Woody Hayes called him, "the greatest offensive lineman I ever coached."

Parker was born in Macon, Ga., but attended high school in Toledo. He was a three-year starter and two-time All-American for the Buckeyes, winning the latter recognition in both 1955 and '56.

During his three years as a starter, the Buckeyes won 23 of 28 games, captured the 1954 National Championship and won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1954 and '55. He was the Buckeyes' MVP in 1956.

A first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts, he is a member of the Ohio State, College Football and Professional Football Halls of Fame.

Just over a year ago, Bucknuts writer Dave Biddle had the chance to interview Parker to discuss his career at Ohio State. Below is a reprint of the article written on Parker.

OSU's Best Lineman Ever?
By Dave Biddle

He's a living legend and arguably the best lineman to ever play at Ohio State.

Jim Parker was the only sophomore starter on OSU's 1954 national championship team. He was named All-American in both 1955 and '56 and became the Buckeyes' first Outland Trophy winner as a senior.

Woody Hayes often said that Parker was the "benchmark" for all offensive linemen that played for him. Hayes said that of all the linemen he coached, or coached against, Parker was the best.

Nowadays, Parker is living in a nursing home in Baltimore. He suffered a stroke a few years ago, but is doing well. He recently took some time to reflect on the 1954 team and the rest of his amazing life and career.

"I can remember growing up in Georgia and watching the Buckeyes and I remember picking Ohio State as the No. 1 team that I wanted to play at," Parker told Bucknuts. "My mother wanted me to go to Morris Brown in Atlanta. My brother and sister, they graduated from Morris Brown. They both played basketball. He played football; she played tennis. All you would hear in Georgia was, ‘Betty and Charlie Parker,' and I was so jealous of it."

Parker decided then that he wanted to make a name for himself. He was an outstanding athlete and felt he would get noticed by more people if he lived in the northern part of the country.

"When I got to be in the 11th grade, I asked my mom if I could go stay with her sister in Toledo," Parker said. "We kept her boy for about eight years when he was growing up while she was going through a divorce. She called my aunt and asked her and put me on a bus and said, ‘You're there for one year.' I just made up my mind that if I wasn't good enough to get noticed by colleges in one year, I'd just get a job somewhere."

After Parker's first prep season in Toledo, Hayes received a tip about a big, talented lineman that had moved to Ohio from the deep South.

"Woody and George Jacoby – the team captain at Ohio State, he lived in Toledo – they met across the street from the garage apartments. I was over there parking cars," Parker said. "Another guy named Wayne Babcock – who owned a dairy in Toledo – said to Woody, ‘You're up here looking at football players? The greatest football player that ever came out of Toledo is over there parking cars.' I got kind of scared and ran upstairs because I wasn't sure if I was ready to meet Woody.

"But, I came back downstairs because I thought he was gone and he came up to me and said, ‘I heard you wanted to go to Ohio State.' I said, ‘That's right.' He said, ‘Tell you what. I'll pick you up Wednesday morning at the bus station in Columbus.' He picked me up, took me to his house and we sat down and talked for a long time.

"He said, ‘I want you to take the entrance test on Friday. Can you stay until Friday and take that test for me?' Of course, I stayed and took the test and passed. When I passed the test, he came out smiling and said, ‘You did a great job, Jim, and you're welcome here at Ohio State.'"

For Parker, it was a dream come true. He moved to Ohio for this very reason.

"We talked about it," he said. "I told him my mother and father were extremely poor and we didn't have a whole lot of money. Ohio State was my first choice. I also wanted to go to the University of Georgia, but at the time it was impossible. It wasn't integrated. But I was happy to be at Ohio State."

And Ohio State was happy to have him. Parker quickly established himself as a force on the practice field and by the time his sophomore season rolled around, Hayes knew he had struck gold.

"Jim Parker was just a massive guy for back then," former OSU tackle Frank Machinsky said. "He was about 250 pounds, he was strong as a bull and he could run. What a player."

Like all of his teammates, Parker has several fond memories of the 1954 championship season. But one game stands out: the 21-7 victory over Michigan.

With the game tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines driving for a go-ahead score, the Buckeyes held them on a goal-line stand at the six-inch line. Ohio State then marched 99-plus yards for a touchdown and later added another score for good measure.

"The game that stands out in my mind was the Michigan game," Parker said. "The Michigan game always stood out because it was our toughest opponent. We won the Rose Bowl (20-7 over USC) and it was no trouble at all. That '54 team was probably one of the best teams to ever be put on a field in this country. I was fortunate enough to play with Hopalong Cassady and guys like that."

Two years later, Parker became the first OSU player to win the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman.

"Well, I didn't even know what it meant at the time that I won it," Parker said. "I read it in the paper one time they said I was the first Ohio State player to win that award, and I still didn't know what it meant. I asked one of our coaches at Ohio State – we were in the gym watching a wrestling match – I said, ‘What in the hell does this Outland mean?' He said, ‘You don't know what that means?' I said, ‘Nope.' He said, ‘That means you're the best lineman in the country.' I didn't know if he was serious or not, but that sounded good to me, so I believed him."

Parker played in the intriguing "single platoon" era. He was known as a good defensive player – no one ran directly at him – but he really made his mark as an offensive lineman. In fact, he is one of the best offensive linemen in the history of the game.

"We played both and I preferred offense," Parker said. "When Woody brought me there, he worked me a lot on being an offensive lineman. He would just teach me all different kinds of things like the stance and getting off the ball as fast as you can at 100 miles per hour… and just beating the living hell out of your opponents.

"When you play offensive line, you have three opponents: the man in front of you, the one on the left, the one on the right. And then when you pull on the sweeps and on the traps, you have to do your best. We had great running backs at Ohio State and we just tried to open it up for them."

Parker was a first-round draft pick by the NFL's Baltimore Colts in 1957. He was a perennial All-Pro selection and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (In fact, he and fellow lineman Bill Willis remain the only two Buckeyes in both the college and pro halls of fame.)

Despite his wonderful pro career, Parker said his time at Ohio State was the highlight of his football career. He gave all credit to Hayes, his father-figure.

"I enjoyed being with Woody at Ohio State because he didn't allow me out of his sight," Parker said. "I had to be around him all day. Had to go pick up players at the airport, take them on a tour of the campus, show them the football buildings. He had something for me to do all the time. Babysit when he would go out at night for his son Stevie. He didn't have anybody to babysit – he was too cheap (laughing). He had me to do it. So, I babysat Stevie."

Parker then told an unfortunate story about the racism that existed even in the North in the 1950's.

"I was more happy being with Woody than anyone in the world," he said. "We went up to Toledo one time looking for a ballplayer and we went into a place and the guy said, ‘I'm sorry, we don't sell to coloreds.' And Woody said something back to the guy and got into a (verbal) fight with the guy and they put Woody and me out. And everybody in the kitchen was standing in the doorway watching and said, ‘That's Woody Hayes.' Then they tried to get us to come back in, but I didn't want to stay there and neither did Woody.

"There's a lot of interesting things I can tell you about Woody. I went out for the wrestling team at Ohio State for one year just to make him mad. And I won the Mid-American championship. I had no idea I could do it until I did it and I just did it to aggravate the hell out of Woody. Woody wouldn't let me out of his sight. I was like Stevie's brother, his big brother. Woody treated me like a son."

Back then, coaches helped out their players without fear of NCAA repercussions. If Parker needed some pocket change, Hayes gave it to him. If he needed clothes, Hayes would buy him some.

"Woody took a liking to me and gave me one of his cars," Parker said. "Well, he gave me one of his cars to drive to pick up players at the airport and bring them back and forth to the university. But once I was done, I could use his car for the evening if I wished."

Hayes also invited players over for dinner quite often.

"There was about six or seven of us on campus – black ballplayers," Parker said. "On Sundays, Woody and his wife would invite us over for dinner at their house. But if Woody invited eight, he didn't want but eight – if you took nine or 10, he'd put all of us out. But Woody always looked out for his guys. Things were different back then. We didn't have any money, so Woody would make sure he treated us as his kids and fed us and gave us anything we needed.

"That was the best four years in my life. I had a lot of great things that happened for me at Ohio State."

Parker's sense of humor hasn't aged a bit. If you want Hayes stories, he's your man.

"We were smoking cigars one night, I think it was my junior year," Parker said. "I was staying at Baker Hall right there on campus by the student union and Woody would come see me three, four times a week. He'd knock on the door and when you'd say, ‘Open,' he'd come on in. So my roommate and I were smoking cigars and he rapped on the door. I said, ‘Come in, come in.' Nobody said nothing. So my roommate said, ‘If you don't know how to come through the door, crawl your big fat ass out of the door.' And when Woody opened the door and my roommate saw him, he turned as green and red and purple… I laughed so hard I cried. If you saw his face… I just couldn't handle it."

Even years later, Parker said he had the utmost respect for his coach.

"When I was playing pro ball, Woody invited me back to Columbus for something," he said. "Me, him and Stevie went out for dinner and the guy asked me what I wanted to drink. I said, ‘Just bring me a cold beer.'

"Woody let everybody know in that restaurant that I wasn't going to drink in front of him. He hit the table and almost broke it. ‘You're not going to drink in front of me! You're not going to do it!' So I said, ‘If you say so boss, I won't drink in front of you,' even though I was 22-23 years old and I could drink whenever the hell I wanted to."

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