‘He could do it all’
It’s difficult to find an area of the sports world where Clarence McKay “Ace” Parker didn’t succeed.
Parker, who died Wednesday at age 101 in Portsmouth, Va., was a master of them all.
He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, having won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1940.
He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, having starred for Wallace Wade’s teams at Duke during his three-sport career with the Blue Devils.
He hit a home run in his first big-league at-bat for the Philadelphia A’s in 1937 and later was the player-manager for the Durham Bulls.
He coached Duke’s baseball team to the College World Series in 1961 and tutored hundreds of Blue Devils football players nearly two decades as an assistant coach in that sport.
He even topped legendary golfer Sam Snead once in a long-drive contest.
At the time of his death Wednesday morning from pulmonary issues, Parker was the oldest living Pro Football Hall of Famer.
“Our thoughts go out to Ace’s family and friends,” Steve Perry, the Hall of Fame’s president/executive director, said in a statement Wednesday. “On behalf of all of the Hall of Famers, the Board, and staff, we reflect on a full life lived and will forever remember the football legacy created by Ace Parker.”
Born May 17, 1912, a few weeks after the sinking of the Titanic and the opening of Boston’s Fenway Park, Parker grew up in Norfolk County, Va. In high school, his athletic career blossomed as he played quarterback in football, forward in basketball and shortstop and pitcher in baseball.
In addition, he played on his high school’s state championship golf team and won the state high jump championship.
Parker originally committed to Virginia Tech, but a group of Duke boosters in the Tidewater area convinced him to take a visit to Duke. During his visit with Wade, the legendary coach is said to have told Parker to head on up to Virginia Tech because he wasn’t good enough to play for the Blue Devils.
Ever the competitor, Parker became determined to prove Wade wrong. So he came to Duke and became a superstar, earning three letters from 1934-36. He was a two-time All-American selection, being named second team as a junior and first team as a senior.
Duke was 24-5 in football during Parker’s three seasons of play, mostly at quarterback. He also returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown against North Carolina in 1936.
Parker set school records for rushing yards in a season (884 in 1935) and career (1,856), total points in a career (134) and touchdowns scored in a career (21).
Parker also played on Duke’s baseball and basketball teams.
In 1937, he joined Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, intent on a successful pro baseball career. Though he started his career with a home run, success was fleeting. He played 94 games in 1937-38 for the A’s, compiling a career batting average of just .231.
In the meantime, the NFL came calling. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had drafted him, and led the NFL in passing yards in 1938.
“I always thought I was a better baseball player than I was a football player,” Parker told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in a 1985 story. “But football seemed to work out better for me.”
That it did.
Parker was named NFL most valuable player in 1940. His statistics that season included throwing 10 touchdown passes, rushing for 306 yards and two touchdowns and catching two touchdown passes. He also kicked 19 PATS and averaged 38 yards a punt, and his six interceptions on defense tied him for the league lead.
Sammy Baugh, another future NFL Hall of Famer, was the runner-up for MVP that season. But he had no problems bowing to Parker.
In a 1994 book entitled “75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League,” Baugh was quoted as saying, “I’ll tell you the best I ever saw: Ace Parker… He could punt, he could pass, he could run, he could play defense. I mean, he could do it all.”
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Parker played one season with the New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference.
By 1947, Parker returned to Durham as an assistant football coach at Duke. He stayed on Duke’s football staff until 1965.
One of the players he coached was Elizabeth City’s Jerry McGee, who played for the Blue Devils from 1958-60.
“He would show you every step to take, every place to be and every
thing you needed to know,” McGee told The Herald-Sun last year. “I remember him saying, ‘This is the way you do it, gentlemen.’ ”
Parker also has ties to the Durham Bulls, serving as the team’s player-manager from 1949-51 before just managing in 1952.
He was Duke’s head baseball coach from 1953-66, compiling a 166-162-4 record that included a Southern Conference championship in 1953 and ACC titles in 1956 and 1957.
Parker guided Duke to the College World Series in 1953 and 1961.
On Sunday, a viewing will be held for Parker from 2-4 p.m. at Foster Funeral Home on High Street in Portsmouth.
Graveside services will be Monday at 2 p.m. at Olive Branch Cemetery in Portsmouth. Afterward, a reception will be held at Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club at 1 Ace Parker Drive in Portsmouth.