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Ace Parker, 101; was oldest football Hall of Famer

Ace Parker played three sports at Duke, then starred with the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers, winning the MVP in 1940.

Associated Press

Ace Parker played three sports at Duke, then starred with the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers, winning the MVP in 1940.

NEW YORK — Ace Parker, a star running back in the National Football League who could do just about everything on a football field in the days of leather helmets and 60-minute men, died Wednesday in Portsmouth, Va. He was 101 and the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame announced his death.

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Listed at 5 feet 10 inches and 178 pounds — a typical size for a back of his era — Mr. Parker was one of the last tailback stars in the single wing, a run-oriented formation that preceded the modern T formation.

A shifty runner with the ball, he also passed, caught passes, punted, and place-kicked. He was a strong blocker and an outstanding defensive back.

Mr. Parker was an all-American tailback at Duke, but he also starred there in baseball, as an outfielder. He signed with the Philadelphia Athletics out of college, and Connie Mack, the team’s owner and manager, converted him to an infielder.

Mr. Parker played for the A’s during the 1937 and 1938 seasons. But he had also been a second-round draft pick of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the NFL in 1937, and he left the Athletics in the late summer of his baseball seasons to attend football training camp. He hit a home run in his first Major League plate appearance, at Fenway Park, but after batting .179 in 94 games over two seasons, he put the major leagues behind him for good.

Mr. Parker starred at Ebbets Field from 1937 to 1941 with the NFL Dodgers. In his second season, he led the league in total yards, with 865 yards passing and 253 yards running. In 1940, despite playing the first few games wearing a 10-pound brace after injuring his ankle in a minor league baseball game the previous summer, he was named the NFL’s most valuable player.

Jock Sutherland, who coached the Dodgers during Mr. Parker’s last two years with them after gaining renown as the Pitt coach, called him “the greatest competitor I have ever seen.”

But Mr. Parker remained a modest sort. At his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, in 1972, when he was 60, he said, “I never expected to be selected for this, but since I have been selected, I’m sure glad it happened when I’m still around.”

Clarence McKay Parker was born in Portsmouth on May 17, 1912, and played at Duke under Wallace Wade, one of college football’s best-known coaches in a previous stint at Alabama.

After five seasons with the football Dodgers, Mr. Parker served in the Navy during World War II, then joined the NFL’s Boston Yanks in 1945. He helped take the New York Yankees of the new All-America Football Conference to an Eastern Division title in 1946.

Mr. Parker returned to Duke after that and became the football team’s offensive backfield coach and head baseball coach.

Mr. Parker leaves a sister, Marion Miller. His wife, Thelma, died in 2009.

The pro football world of Mr. Parker’s heyday was far from the corporate enterprise of today. One of the Dodgers’ owners, John Kelly, also played for them. Kelly got his nickname, Shipwreck, in his college years at Kentucky when he emulated the famed flagpole-sitting escapades of Alvin Kelly, known as Shipwreck. Kelly recruited Mr. Parker for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers’ other owner, Dan Topping, later owned the football Yankees and, far more famously, the baseball Yankees with Del Webb. Topping and Kelly enjoyed nights on the town.

“They were quite a pair,” Mr. Parker told Richard Whittingham in “What a Game They Played,” an oral history of old-time pro football. “One time Shipwreck put a lion in Dan Topping’s bed. Dan was in there asleep — they roomed together when they weren’t out carousing around town — and old Shipwreck snuck in this lion, not a real full-grown one but big enough. When Dan woke up later and saw it, he damn near jumped out of the sixth-story window.”

Kelly was generous. When Mr. Parker arrived in Brooklyn unaware that players were supposed to furnish much of their own equipment, Kelly gave him his shoulder pads and hip pads.

Mr. Parker, also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, wore those pads for all seven of his pro seasons, then gave them away.

One day he happened to meet up with Kelly, and, as he related in his oral history interview, “I was telling him that one pair of his pads were in the College Football Hall of Fame and the other was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shoulder pads in one and hip pads in the other.”

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