State Your Case: Lemar Parrish

Scored touchdowns five different ways in his career

(Published March 2020)

It’s noteworthy that Lemar Parrish went to eight Pro Bowls in his career.

Noteworthy because Parrish is one of only six cornerbacks in NFL history to go to at least eight Pro Bowls. The other five – Champ Bailey (12), Willie Brown (9), Mike Haynes (9), Deion Sanders (8) and Aeneas Williams (8) – have all been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Parrish is still waiting for his bust – but it’s becoming a dream that fades by the year. Parrish has been eligible now for 33 years but has never once been a finalist. And until you’re a finalist, you’re not a Hall-of-Fame candidate because that’s the only time each year that the selection committee meets to discuss, debate and judge playing careers.

And Parrish deserves to be a candidate.

He is one of only two defensive players in the senior pool with at least eight Pro Bowls who is still waiting for that call from Canton. Linebacker Maxie Baughan, who went to nine Pro Bowls in the 1960s, is the other.

A seventh-round draft pick in 1970 by the Cincinnati Bengals out of tiny Lincoln University in Missouri, Parrish was chosen primarily for his return skills on special teams but became a starting cornerback by October of his rookie season. He intercepted five passes that year and scored touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns. He averaged 30.1 yards per return on kickoffs and was voted to the Pro Bowl for his return skills.

Parrish intercepted seven passes in his second season in 1971 and went back to the Pro Bowl, this time for his defensive skills. In eight seasons with the Bengals, Parrish was voted to six Pro Bowls and scored 13 touchdowns – four on interceptions, four on punt returns, three on fumbles, one on a kickoff return and another on a blocked field goal return.

But after appearing in four consecutive Pro Bowls, Parrish became embroiled in a contract dispute with the Bengals in 1978 and was traded to Washington. The Redskins asked him to concentrate solely on defense, not asking him to return kicks, and he responded with 21 interceptions and his final two Pro Bowl invitations in four years in Washington. He intercepted a career-best nine passes in 1979 and followed that up with seven more in 1980.

His 47 career interceptions alone should get him to the table as a Hall-of-Fame candidate. That’s one fewer than Hall-of-Famer Herb Adderley, as many as Hall-of-Famer Jimmy Johnson and one more than the Hall-of-Famer Haynes. When you factor in his return skills, you can only scratch your head as to why Parrish’s candidacy has never been discussed.

In 1974, Parrish returned two punts for touchdowns and led the league with an average of 18.8 yards per runback. He averaged 24.7 yards on his 61 career kickoff returns and 9.2 yards on his 131 career punt returns.

Parrish scored touchdowns in his career on a 95-yard kickoff return, a 93-yard punt return and an 83-yard blocked field goal return. In addition to his interceptions, he recovered 13 fumbles for 60 career takeaways. Factor in those 13 touchdowns and Parrish was a defensive player with an offensive mentality.

That combination put Sanders and Ed Reed in the Hall of Fame.

It’s past time for Parrish to receive Hall-of-Fame consideration for those same skills. The Bengals have been around for 53 years yet have only one Hall-of-Fame player — Anthony Munoz. It’s time the Hall starts taking the candidacies of Parrish, Ken Riley and Ken Anderson seriously.

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