Ace dodges baseball (continued)

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The contract didn’t specifically stipulate that Parker had to quit baseball but it did say that he had to agree to report to the Dodgers by August 15.

So Ace refused a baseball contract from the Pittsburgh Pirates and cancelled his plans for a big league career. The baseball hierarchy was shocked because no great athlete had ever picked pro football over baseball before.

Parker did request permission to play minor league baseball with his hometown Portsmouth, Virginia, team “until football practice starts” and the Dodgers agreed. But Parker, on May 3, misfortune struck again as he broke his ankle again sliding into the base. However, this time it was his right ankle.

As he had done in the past, Parker was ready to go by September and was back in his football gear. Without missing a step, Parker’s one-man heroics helped produce another second place finish for the Dodgers.

The New York Giants won six straight games to start the 1941 campaign and then ran into the Dodgers. Parker stunned the Giants to help the Dodgers to a 16-13 upset. It marked the first time in 11 seasons that Brooklyn had beaten their arch-rival Giants at Ebbets Field.

Parker is honored during Ace Parker Day
Parker’s contributions to the victory were of story book nature. During the early stages, his crushing tackle of Len Eshmont prevented a New York touchdown. Just before the half, he capped a 78-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring pass. In the third quarter, his passes set up a tying field goal. Finally, he raced 61 yards to the New York 19 to set up the winning score.


“Somewhere in the dim past there might have been another back who could have done these things. Maybe Thorpe or Heston or Grange or Nevers,” Associated Press writer Gayle Talbot wrote. “But permit me to doubt it. The brand of football the professionals play today is terrible in its demands but Parker is its master.”

Amazingly, such one-man heroics were commonplace throughout Parker’s career. There was, for instance, the day in 1940, on Ace Parker Day in Brooklyn, that the tremendous competitor accounted for every point in the Dodgers’ 14-9 win over the Chicago Cardinals. Or, two weeks later, when it was Mel Hein Day in the Polo Grounds and Parker ruined the festivities by throwing two touchdown passes and kicking two extra points in a 14-6 upset that enabled the Dodgers to slip past the Giants into second place in the NFL East.

Or, that same year, Ace set up or directly accounted for every point in a come-from-behind 29-14 win over the Cleveland Rams. The Rams were ahead 14-0 when Parker intercepted a pass and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown. It was one of six interceptions he recorded that season as he tied for the league lead in that category. After two TD passes were nullified by penalties, Parker threw two more scoring strikes to put the Dodgers ahead.

Then Ace raced 19 yards to set up a field goal and, finally, intercepted a second pass and returned it 38 yards to set up a fourth touchdown. To top it off, he kicked two extra points and was the holder in the field goal.

Parker’s career was then interrupted by his service in the U.S. Navy. He rose to the rank of full lieutenant over the next four years. Upon his discharge from the Navy, Parker could not return to the Dodgers. That’s because the franchise had disbanded by that time. Most of his teammates had been assigned to the new Boston Yanks. So, Parker joined the club in October 1945. He was used only sparingly in Boston.

So the next year he turned his thoughts to the new AAFC and the Yankees, who were owned by none other than Topping. Topping was a bit reluctant to take on a 34-year old quarterback but Parker’s enthusiasm prevailed and it was a wise decision for Topping.

Parker, who was to taste his first bit of championship glory in the pro ranks, was the spearhead of the Yankees’ surge. He played three games with three dislocated vertebrae, sat out three games while the pain eased then returned to spark the late-season rally that produced a division championship. Parker had great personal statistics, including a then-record performance of having only three of 115 passes intercepted.

The AAFC title battle with the talent-laden Cleveland Browns proved to be Parker’s final football game. The Yankees lost, 14-9, in a tough fought battle with the defending champs. Parker was a hero even in defeat as he set up both New York scores.

Parker’s storied career may have been best summarized by this quote from the Giants Hall of Famer owner Tim Mara who made this comment following the Dodgers’ 1941 upset of the Giants:

“You can kick Ace Parker in the head and you can break both his ankles but you can never hurt his heart!”

It was that heart that earned Parker his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the game’s all-time greatest competitors.
 


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