Big Jim Parker: From Macon, Georgia to Liberty Heights

Debating who is the better athlete at any position is sure to be an all day conversation. However, Jim Parker, the former Baltimore Colt and Hall of Famer, is certainly considered one of the best. Ironically, many who grew up in the 70’s – 90’s in northwest Baltimore know of Jim Parker more for selling beverages than playing football.

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Before the late Parker opened Jim Parker’s Pub(aka Jim Parker’s Liquors) at the corner of Liberty Heights and Garrison(closed in 1999), he was at Ohio State laying the foundation for a legendary football career.

Playing for the demanding and well respected Woody Hayes, Parker was a two time All-American and an Outland Trophy Winner. Named for All-American John H. Outland, the award recognized college’s best interior lineman. Woody Hayes was quoted as saying, “Jim Parker was the greatest offensive lineman I’ve ever coached”.

Reputation in hand, Parker came to Baltimore in 1956 after being drafted in the first round. Like a game of chess his job was simple; protect the king. The king was Baltimore Colt’s quarterback and fellow hall of famer Johnny Unitas(d 2002).

Parker excelled in his role becoming a perennial all-star and all-pro performer and helping the Colts win two NFL Championships. In 1973, Parker was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

He also was one of the most popular athletes which would later help him make the transition from player to retiree.

In 1964, Parker opened Jim Parker’s Pub – “At The Crossroads”. These were the days when pro athletes still had to have ‘real’ jobs. In the off season most athletes would work other jobs to supplement their income, and they lived amongst their fans. As such, before Parker opened his own store, he was head of sales promotion for a liquor distributor and ironically Art Donavan, his teammate, was his boss.

1964 was the same year Parker would began to consider retirement but it would be three years later before he would actually retire. Parker grew up on a farm in Georgia, and city life did not always quell the simplicity of farm life. That coupled with injuries and a growing family had him pondering retirement.

Like NFLers today Parker would awake in the wee hours of the morning in pain. In December 1967, while undefeated, Parker unselfishly announced his retirement and did it early enough to allow the Colts to get a replacement to prep for their playoff run. Coming into the final game of the season, the Colts were 11-0-2 but had to play their final game against the Los Angeles Rams who were 10-1-2. The Rams won and knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. Although the Colts lost, Parker’s unselfish act and commitment to his team was evident.

The 6-3 athlete from Macon, Georgia would show just as much commitment to running a successful enterprise as he did on the gridiron. Jim Parker 'liquors' operated for more than 30 years, with its well known owner working long hours and never being considered an absentee owner. Parker was also once a member of the ULBA, United Liquor Beverage Association. The ULBA launched in the 1960’s and comprised of Black owned/operated alcoholic beverage establishments committed to offering excellent service, clean establishments and assisting with neighborhood events and concerns.

Neighborhood Changes

After more than 30 years at the helm, neighborhood descension, and failing health, it was time for Parker to write a closing sentence to another great career. In 1999, Jim Parker’s closed its doors. Today, the building that housed this long standing business has since been raised and its space is part of Walgreens parking lot.

In a 1994 Sports Illustrated article, Parker noted how he enjoyed playing the game. "Guard was fun, seeing those defensive backs out there not being able to get out of the way. It was a train hitting a Volkswagen. You'd mow them down.”

In that interview Parker also elaborated on the difficulties of balancing a football career and family life. “It broke up my marriage. Instead of spending time with my family, I was putting time in down in the basement, looking at films of defensive ends."

After a lengthy bout with diabetes, “jovial Jim” died on July 18, 2005 of congestive heart failure. He was 71 years old. The life of a gentle giant, son, father, companion, philanthropist, and athlete, had run its last yard.

Although the building is no longer standing, driving pass Liberty Heights and Garrison, it’s difficult not to think of Jim Parker’s.

copyright C.Green/School 18 Project