Back in the summer of 1991, when Bernie Parmalee spent his mornings unloading UPS trucks in Muncie, Ind., and his nights working at the Clancy Village Bowl, this is what he kept thinking: It's not over. My football career is not over.
That, of course, is the mantra of hundreds of college players who thrill their campuses with wonderful feats and then are ignored by the NFL. But the 5'11", 205-pound Parmalee, Ball State's alltime leading rusher, did something about it. Passed over in the April 1991 draft, he finagled an invitation to the Miami Dolphin camp in the summer of '92, hoping to make the squad as a special-teamer. The odds were long, but a chance is a chance. Parmalee began looking at tapes of the modern master of special teams—Steve Tasker of the Buffalo Bills. "I developed Steve's philosophy on special teams: Making a big special teams play can be just as important as catching a big pass or making a big run in a game," says Parmalee. "You've just got to love to do it."
And he did. The Dolphins activated Parmalee for 10 games in 1992, and he spent all of last season as a special-teamer before coach Don Shula named him special teams captain this season. Playing punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return, Parmalee has led Miami in special teams tackles over the past two seasons, with 17.
One other thing. Parmalee, who is also seeing time as a tailback, rushed for 150 yards on Oct. 16 against the L.A. Raiders. For the first time in his coaching career, Shula gave two game balls—one for special teams, one for offensive play—to the same player.
Now that he is handling more of the rushing load, Parmalee has been removed from the punt-return team, but he will stay on the other three units. "He can't be taken off all his assignments," says special teams coach Mike Westhoff, "We're sewn together. They'd have to tear us apart."