Clarence “Ace” Parker never really intended to play pro football when he completed his career as an All-America tailback at Duke University in 1936.
In the first place, at 5’11” and a mere 168 pounds, his size wasn’t the kind that would guarantee him success in the “big man’s world” of the National Football League. And, perhaps more importantly, Ace had other plans.
“My ambition really was to be a major league baseball player and I signed a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics,” Parker recalled. “I told the Brooklyn Dodgers that this would be my decision when they picked me No. 1 in the NFL draft of 1937.”
But after the ‘37 baseball season, Parker decided to give pro football a short try and, after first obtaining permission from Athletics’ manager Connie Mack, he reported to the Dodgers midway through the football season.
“I thought I would play out the season and that would be the end of it, as far as pro football was concerned,” Parker continued.
History now records that the 1937 season wasn’t “the end of it” for the multi-talented Parker. Ace stayed with the Dodgers until a military service call interrupted his career in 1942. After serving in World War II, he returned for a brilliant final campaign with the New York Yankees of the new All-America Football Conference in 1946.
In doing so, Parker, certainly one of the last great truly triple-threat performers in pro football, left such a lasting impression on all who saw him play that, a full quarter of a century later after his final fame, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
With Parker leading the way, the Brooklyn Dodgers came close to NFL Eastern Division championships in 1940 and again in 1941. Parker, as he had done throughout his career, was the do-everything star for the club.
There was little on the football field that Parker didn’t do superbly well. In his seven seasons on the pro gridiron, he rushed 498 times for 1,292 yards and he completed 335 of 718 passes for 4,698 yards. He also was an outstanding punter.
Once in a while he answered the call as a pass receiver and he also returned punts and kickoffs. Like most of the players of his day, Ace played both offense and defense. While interception statistical records are not complete for his entire career, it is known that Parker was a feared defender.
Parker also was a placekicker and handled most of the conversion chores for the 1940 Dodgers, a year when he scored 49 points, a single-season high for Ace. During his career, he scored 148 points, 120 of them coming on 20 touchdowns.
Interestingly, it was baseball and not the huge NFL linemen that Ace faced every weekend that proved to be the biggest stumbling block in his career. Even after he decided that baseball wouldn’t keep him from pursuing pro football, accidents on the baseball field twice endangered Parker’s pro football career.
Playing as a shortstop for Syracuse in 1940, Parker broke his left ankle sliding into home in a game in Toronto. He reported to football camp on schedule, but he had to wear a 10-pound brace that extended from his ankle to his knee through the first three weeks of the campaign.
Parker really wasn’t exceptionally fast anyway, but he continued doing just what he had always done – running, passing, catching passes, punting, placekicking, returning punts and kickoffs and playing defense. That season he won the coveted Joe Carr Trophy awarded to the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. In fact his performance was so well rated that he garnered twice as many votes as the runner-up Sammy Baugh in the voting for the award.
By this time, Parker was convinced that pro football really was his game. He won All-NFL honors during his first full season in 1938 which prompted Brooklyn owner Dan Topping to reward Parker with “the highest two-year contract in football.”