For 11 years football has been his livelihood, because he was given remarkable athletic ability to go with his size, plus an even quicker brain to sort out the complexities of shifting defenses. It's that mind that sets him a bit apart from the average NFL player. He enjoys nothing more than skewering the pretensions of the game, the inanities and clich�s stretching from the locker room to the TV booth, even some of its hallowed and what he believes are hollow traditions, such as group prayer.
"Do you need to pray with a group to be considered a spiritual person?" says Parker. "I don't think so. When I was with Kansas City, Marty Schottenheimer called us together for a prayer after a win. He said, 'Parker, you lead us.' I said, 'Coach, I don't believe in group prayer.' You could have heard a pin drop. Marty said, 'O.K.,' and got someone else. Later I apologized. I said, 'I should have told you.' He said, 'No problem, I shouldn't have asked you.'
"It didn't sit well with everyone," Parker adds. "Some elements in Kansas City feel that if you don't believe in God, you believe in the devil. People asked me, 'Are you an atheist?' I said, 'No, an agnostic,' because the question of God is so powerful, so great, that there's no way we can know the answer. Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in prayer? Yes. In public prayer and group prayer? No. I don't need a group around me to prove my own spirituality. But everyone seems to be trying to convert you. Bible-thumpers on the team say, 'C'mon, let's pray together.' I say, 'Sure, if I can slaughter a goat at halftime.' "
And what about the field of battle? Can it be a place for whimsy, for lighthearted banter, instead of the loony and slightly murderous nonsense that passes for trash talk? Why not? "We were playing the Vikings, and John Randle was really wound up, the way he gets," Parker says of the former Minnesota defensive tackle who signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the off-season. "He was screaming pure gibberish. I mean, no one could understand him. So I leaned out of our huddle and said, 'It might help if you spoke English.' The guys in our huddle were laughing, the Vikings were laughing, even the officials were laughing. Randle didn't think it was funny.
"When we played the Eagles in the playoffs, [cornerback] Troy Vincent got upset after one play. I kind of held him off. He yelled, "Don't you ever touch me!' So I touched him on the arm a few times. 'Touching you, touching you,' I said, like little kids do in the playground. 'See, I'm touching you.' He didn't laugh."
Come on, there must be some defensive players who enjoy a laugh or two, or a little chitchat on the field, right? "Most defensive linemen are meatheads," Parker says. "The best conversation I had with one was with Chris Doleman when I was at left tackle for the Chiefs and we played Minnesota. After a couple of plays he said, 'So I hear you're into wine.' I said yeah, and he said, ' California or Bordeaux?' Wham, wham—another couple of plays go by. 'Tell you what,' I said, 'how about if I send you a copy of my cellar book?' He said, 'Would you?' For the next 15 or 20 plays we were laughing about it and having a fine time. Finally Dave Szott, the guard next to me, said, 'Will you guys shut up? I'm trying to play football!' Very serious guy, Dave."
A common misconception about football is that the ferocity of the game must be apparent in one's personality, so a player like Parker must lack dedication, even toughness. From the coaching staff to the front office, the Giants are quick to dispel that idea. "When we were bringing in guys and trying to restructure our offensive line, we had him penciled in as Lomas Brown's backup at left tackle," Fassel says. "After a few practices, Jim McNally, our line coach, said, 'This guy is no backup.' "
Adds McNally, "Comparing him to what we had seen on films, this might have been his best season. A terrific blocker on the move, pulling and leading, and very smart. With players like that, the biggest mistake you can make is to overcoach them. He knows what he's doing, plus in his own way he's a fine leader on the field."
"Never underrate his toughness," says Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who signed Parker to a seven-year deal with a $1 million bonus in March 2000. "He put himself back in our game against the Steelers twice after his knee locked up. Then after the knee was scoped on the following Wednesday, he wanted to get back on the field that next weekend. We were barely able to hold him out."
Fassel says by bringing in Parker and Brown, a 16-year veteran who gave the Giants a terrific season, he was searching for leadership, plus what he calls "personalities." "Then one of my coaches would see Glenn joking around in the locker room," Fassel says, "and he'd say, 'You wanted personalities. You sure got one here.' "