Clarence “Ace” Parker, a star of New York City football in the 1940s and the only Pro Football Hall of Fame member to reach 100, has died. He was 101.
He died yesterday, according to the Canton, Ohio-based Hall of Fame, which didn’t provide details. He had been hospitalized with a pulmonary condition since late last month, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported on its website.
Parker was the oldest living person to have played in the NFL, according to Saleem Choudhry, a researcher at the Hall of Fame. That distinction is now believed to belong to Don Looney, 96, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1940 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1941-1942, Choudhry said.
Parker, whose career was interrupted by a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, starred as quarterback for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Yanks of the NFL and the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference. He was named NFL Most Valuable Player in 1940, when he led the Dodgers on offense and defense to a second-place finish in the Eastern Division. In his final season, 1946, he led the Yankees to a division title.
An all-around athlete, he played basketball at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and professional baseball for two seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics.
“I always thought I was a better baseball player than I was a football player,” Parker said in 1985, according to the Virginian-Pilot. “But football seemed to work out better for me.”
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
“There was no thought in my mind of ever being put in the Hall of Fame of professional football,” he said in his induction speech. “In the first place, I always thought I was too small. I weighed 168 pounds and was” 5 feet, 10 inches tall. “I couldn’t compare with the others, so I just thought I would be passed over, but since I was selected I want to say that I’m sure glad it happened while I’m still here.”
Stephen Perry, president of the Hall of Fame, said in a statement today, “We reflect on a full life lived and will forever remember the football legacy created by Ace Parker.”
Parker suffered one concussion, in his first season with Brooklyn in a game against the Chicago Bears, according to “What a Game They Played,” Richard Whittingham’s 1984 book. The hit occurred as he stood on his toes to watch his pass sail downfield toward a receiver.
“And that’s all I remember until I woke up at the hospital,” he is quoted saying in the book. “I still played the next week.”
Clarence McKay Parker was born on May 17, 1912, in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Ernest R. and Mabel H. Parker, according to a death notice on the website of B.W. Foster Funeral Home in Portsmouth. In high school he earned letters in football, baseball, basketball, golf and track.
He remains in the Duke football record book with the longest play in school history, a 105-yard kickoff return against the University of North Carolina in 1936. A halfback, he led Duke to a record of 24 wins and 5 losses during his three seasons, 1934-1936. The university presents an annual Ace Parker Award to a player “who displays unparalleled commitment to the team and overcomes adversity to contribute.”
Parker was picked by the Dodgers in the NFL’s second-ever draft, in 1937. For two seasons, 1937 and 1938, he played both baseball with the Athletics and football with the Dodgers.
In a Dodgers win over the Cleveland Rams on Nov. 17, 1940, Parker had a hand in all 29 of his team’s points. He ran back an interception for a touchdown, threw two touchdown passes, served as holder for a successful field goal, set up a touchdown with a second interception and kicked two extra points.
According to the Hall of Fame, “Parker eventually left the game after he twisted his leg, the same one he had earlier injured in baseball. He received a loud ovation as he limped to the sidelines.”
After his playing days, he worked as an NFL scout for the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers until his retirement in 1987, according to the death notice.
His wife of 67 years, Thelma Sykes Parker, preceded him in death, as did two sisters and three brothers. Survivors include his sister, Marion Pauline Miller of Jacksonville, Florida, and three nieces and six nephews.