"When we got back to the hotel room I put all those one-dollar bills in the bathtub. 'Let's take a bath in money,' I said. Hell, that wasn't any damn money...."
Parker had played both ways in college, and the Colts drafted him as a guard and a linebacker. Ewbank had other ideas. "First time I met [Ewbank]," Parker says, "he told me, 'Look, if you really want to help this team you'll be my left tackle. Just remember one thing. The quickest way to make yourself unpopular is to let that guy, number 19, get hurt." That guy was John Unitas."
Offensive linemen were an anonymous lot in the '50s. You would see the same names on the Pro Bowl rosters—Harley Sewell, Lou Creekmur—then you would forget about them until the next year. The little acclaim that did come their way was for run blocking. Roosevelt Brown, for example, the New York Giants' left tackle, earned some notice for his speed at pulling to lead sweeps. But Ewbank had apprenticed under Paul Brown in Cleveland, and one of Brown's principal contributions to the game was his scheme of cup blocking to protect quarterback Otto Graham. Every time the old Browns broke their huddle, the linemen would chant, "Nobody touches Graham." The value of a great pass protector was not lost on Ewbank.
An often overlooked sidelight to the famous Giant-Colt sudden-death championship game in 1958 was the job that Parker did on defensive end Andy Robustelli, one of football's premier pass rushers. Parker, in only his second year in the league, already had established himself as a superb drive-blocker, but his domination of Robustelli was something different, a performance so smooth, so complete, that it was used as a textbook case for many years: He takes an outside rush, you run him around the corner; he goes inside, you collapse him into the pile. Parker calls it "the most perfect game I ever played," and even the game announcers were drawn to this unusual display of line technique that had never been highlighted before.
Two years before that Parker had been raising dust in Woody Hayes's three-yard attack. "This was Woody's offense," Parker says. "All-Big Ten tackles, an All-Big Ten fullback, a Hopalong Cassady to break the occasional big one, and every eight plays you throw the ball as far as you can down the center of the field to show you've got a passing attack."
Given that foundation, how had Parker launched a career that would earn him a reputation as possibly the greatest pass-blocking tackle in history? "Big Daddy," he says. "Our great defensive tackle, Big Daddy Lipscomb. He adopted me, took me under his wing. He said, 'I'm going to make you the best tackle in the game.'
"In the off-season he'd be at my house every morning at 5:30. We'd go out to the park at Sparrow's Point and work on technique. He'd pull out this big sheet and say, 'O.K., here are the defensive ends you're going to be playing against in this league.' He taught me which ones go inside, which go outside, which ones like to take that half a step cheat-step to the right; he taught me about the speed rushers and bull rushers, how to set up and keep my back straight against the guys who try to bowl you over.
"Big Daddy was what I call a football fanatic, because he knew every aspect of the game. He would have made a great coach. He told me about all the personnel: 'O.K., now here's [Chicago Bear] Doug Atkins, 6'8" tall with those long arms. Likes to grip you outside. You can't knock his arms off from underneath. He's too strong. You have to come down on them from on top. Or punch him in the belly.' One time I did, and Doug complained to the referee: 'Look, here's the bruise.'
"Big Daddy even taught me about guys on my own team, like Don Joyce, our right end. 'Don't ever turn your back on him,' he said. 'He's a mean one.'
"I started keeping my own book. I developed my own film library on all the defensive ends in the league, then all the ends and tackles. Do guys do that today? If I were an offensive line coach I'd insist on my guys giving a report on each defensive lineman they were about to face.