Before the NFL and Major League Baseball had Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders playing two sports — and when football players still wore leather helmets and ran the single wing offense — there was Clarence "Ace" Parker.
Before he died Wednesday at age 101, Parker was the Pro Football Hall of Fame's oldest living alum. The MVP of the 1940 NFL season, Parker had an amazing athletic career after playing three sports in college, including basketball, at Duke. Here's video of Parker returning a punt for a touchdown in college.
Parker also played shortstop with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, hitting a home run at Fenway Park in his first career at-bat in 1937. It's also believed Parker was the last living person to play on the same field as MLB Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby. Parker played two seasons with the A's, batting .179/.231/.242 with two homers in 228 plate appearances. He kept playing baseball in the minors, but starting in 1937 he also had played football for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He obviously was gifted there, leading the league in total yards, with 865 yards passing and 253 yards rushing, in his second season.
His MVP season in 1940 was something else, as the Associated Press reported:
That season, the 5-foot-10, 178-pounder threw 10 touchdown passes, ran for 306 yards and two touchdowns, caught two touchdown passes, kicked 19 extra points and shared the league lead with six interceptions on defense. He also punted for the Dodgers, averaging 38 yards per kick.
All while wearing a 10-pound brace to protect his ankle after injuring it playing baseball over the summer. Then came World War II, during which Parker served in the Navy from 1941-1945. He also married Thelma Sykes in 1942. He was a big enough deal for the Associated Press to run photos of the ceremony:
After the Navy, he played two more seasons in pro football before returning to minor league baseball, where he played and managed with the Portsmouth (Va.) Cubs and Durham (N.C.) Bulls from 1946-1952. He also coached football and baseball at Duke until 1965, and worked as an NFL scout for the Cardinals and 49ers until he retired in 1987.
His obituary in the New York Times called Parker a "modest" sort:
At his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, in 1972, when he was 60 years old, he said, “I never expected to be selected for this, but since I have been selected, I’m sure glad it happened when I’m still around.”
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