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North Star: Philly’s Parker Is a Forgotten Legend

Written by: on Thursday, February 18th, 2021. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.

 

Take a minute and brainstorm the Delaware Valley Hall of Famers.

Herb Adderley?  Check.  Marvin Harrison?  Check.  Older fans remember Leroy Kelly.  Troy Vincent, Eddie George, Joe Klecko, and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson certainly merit a Canton induction debate.

Was Quick Parker on your list?

A Philadelphia son carved out one of the greatest careers in Canadian Football League history.  James “Quick” Parker, a member of the Ben Franklin class of ’76, wreaked havoc on CFL offenses during an outstanding tenure that lasted from 1980-1991.

A 2001 inductee into the CFL Hall of Fame alongside teammate Warren Moon, Parker won the CFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1982, 1984, and 1986.  He played a key role on four Grey Cup Champions.

Quick was born on New Year’s Day, 1958.  He was good enough to be a second-team All-City defensive lineman in both the 1974 and 1975 seasons, two years where now-Raider GM Mike Mayock interestingly made the first team.

Parker attended Wake Forest.  Like other small, academically minded schools, the Demon Deacons have traditionally had an uphill football battle.  Nonetheless, Wake won eight games in Parker’s 1979 senior year.  The Demon Deacons went 3-1 against ranked teams and played in the Tangerine Bowl, in an era where post-season berths were rare.

The Football News honored Parker as a second-team All-American.  His 93 tackles in 1979 and his 15 career sacks still rank among Wake Forest’s all-time leaders.  Parker left Winston-Salem with more sacks than anyone in Demon Deacon history.

The 5’10”, 215 pounds Parker signed with the Edmonton Eskimos after his name went uncalled in the NFL Draft.  Quick joined a juggernaut: the Eskimos were winning their third of five straight Grey Cups during his 1980 rookie season.  No other franchise won even four straight Cups.

Edmonton, stunningly with the benefit of hindsight, released Parker although they later re-signed him for the back half of the 1980 season.  The next year, the CFL began tracking quarterback sacks and Parker’s devastating impact could now be quantified.  He led the CFL with 18.5 sacks in 1981 while pacing the statistically stingiest defense in the CFL.  At the same time, Moon was guiding the CFL’s top offense. Small wonder that the Eskimos went 14-1-1 and won their fourth straight Grey Cup.

Edmonton “fell” to 11-5 in 1982 but still led the CFL in both points scored and the fewest points allowed.  A September 6th 32-20 loss to Calgary sunk the club to 3-5, but a maligned defense that yielded 30+ points in five of their first eight games got their act together and allowed less than 17 per game the rest of the way.  Parker again led the CFL with 17.5 sacks as the Eskimos won their final 10 games.  In a freezing rain in front of 55,000 fans on Thanksgiving weekend, Parker and Edmonton surrendered just two second-half points as the Eskimos pulled away from the home Toronto Argonauts to win Grey Cup #70 32-16.

Quick was traded to the B.C. Lions in 1984 for a first-round pick and B.C.’s territorial exemption.  CFLapedia called it “one of the most lopsided trades in CFL history”[1] as Parker promptly carved his name into League record books.  His 26.5 sacks that Fall is still the CFL single-season record.  In 1985, Parker won the Grey Cup Defensive Player of the Game that November while leading B.C. to their first CFL title in 21 years. He forced a late second-half fumble that B.C. converted into a field goal, giving them a 23-14 halftime lead that they wouldn’t relinquish in the 37-24 win over Hamilton.

In 1986, behind 22 sacks, Parker won his third Most Outstanding Defensive Player.  It completed an astounding half dozen seasons for the Philly native: Parker played in 98 regular-season games from 1981 to 1986 and averaged over a sack per game during the string.

Quick suffered a season-ending injury in B.C.’s 1987 opener, but he returned to play two more solid years with the Lions.  Parker still got his sacks, but he also recovered five fumbles in 1988, including a 43-yard scoop and score.

Parker was traded to Toronto in 1990 for the rights to quarterback Major Harris.  He played one full season with the Argos before retiring in 1991; Parker’s 139.5 sacks are still fourth-most in CFL history.

Parker spent two years coaching defensive backs for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but the job didn’t seem to fit his DNA.  Quick was, recalled Darrell Davis in 3downnation’s obit, “a popular guy, a charismatic man whose smile and friendly demeanor put everyone at ease.”[2]  It was not, Davis pointed out, a personality that embraced hours and hours of film study and meetings.

Parker settled outside of Vancouver and eventually worked in furniture sales.  His son Keynan was the British Columbia 100 and 200 high school meter champion before embarking on his own five-year career as a B.C. Lion defensive back.

Quick tragically suffered a heart attack and passed away on March 27, 2018.  “He revolutionized the game,” said former B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono.  “Before Quick came along, you didn’t see defensive end his size or standing up at the line of scrimmage. Now they’re all over the place.”[3]

“At 5-11 and 225 pounds, Parker didn’t exactly have the dimensions of a classic defensive end,” wrote Ed Willes in The Province two days after Parker’s passing. “But he had the speed to burn, a low center of gravity, and a non-stop engine, all of which made him unblockable.

“Parker was also the first defensive end anyone can remember attacking from a standing position that meant he virtually invented the rush end position,” Willes continued.  “That’s in the CFL and NFL.”[4]

It is fair to say that Parker influenced his league as much as Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary impacted theirs.  Quick may have blossomed North of the Border, yet the roots of that excellence extend deeply into Philadelphia.

Photo courtesy of bclions.com website

[1] James Parker (cflapedia.com)

[2] Davis: James ‘Quick’ Parker was a once-in-a-generation player – 3DownNation

[3] Ed Willes: Quick Parker revolutionized game before Lion heart gave out | The Province

[4] Idid

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