Fri, 23 Apr 2021

Leapin' Lemar's Hall Case: Deion Before Deion

Cincinnati Bengals
27 Feb 2021, 20:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

When it comes to overlooked greats, the Bengals have a deep bench.

Ken Riley, who has the most interceptions by a cornerback since the merger. Ken Anderson, who has more NFL passing titles than all but two players. Isaac Curtis, the prototype of the modern pro receiver who made them change the rules.

And this man.

Leapin' Lemar.

"I'm first-team everything," Lemar Parrish says. "I think I'm the best defensive back that ever left the Bengals."

Parrish, the Deion-before-Deion Bengals flashy mod cornerback who dashed to six Pro Bowls in the first eight seasons of the 1970s, isn't the only guy that knows his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So does Bengaldom. So do his Bengals teammates. So does Rick Gosselin of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and its senior committee. He has stated Parrish's case several times and did again this week.

"The committee loves championships and stats," Gosselin says. "If you're a defensive player who didn't win a ring or have stats, you're a longshot. And a guy like Parrish hasn't even been discussed. He should be discussed."

A contract dispute led to Parrish's 1978 trade to Washington, where he went to two more Pro Bowls. By the time he retired after the 1982 season, he didn't have Riley's 65 interceptions or Deion Sanders' 19 return touchdowns or Ed Reed's Super Bowl ring.

But Parrish has enough of everything to be Canton-bound when you look at his 47 interceptions and 13 return touchdowns for 60 career takeaways. He took two punts back in 1974 and that 18.8 yards per return average for the season is still the league's best since the merger.

When Parrish asks, "Who's done that?" the answer is Leapin' Lemar.

"Let me set the record straight," Parrish says. "Riley is my friend. We never said who did this or who did that. We just played the game. I love him like a brother. This isn't about Riley. It's about me being acknowledged."

Parrish simply believes that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. At the very least be discussed. And he does. He also thinks Riley should be in there, too. And he also believes no Bengal on defense can touch his resume.

"I knew the game and how to play cornerback. I mastered that," Parrish says. "You don't get to be an All-Pro eight times if you don't know what you're doing. I put up numbers and teams didn't want to throw it to me. It's like Deion. How do you get interceptions if they don't throw it to you?"

Sanders had 53 interceptions, but Parrish matched him with the eight Pro Bowls. But Sanders got his championship with the 49ers. Gosselin points out that Parrish is one of six cornerbacks with at least eight Pro Bowls and the only one not in Canton.

Long an advocate for defensive equality in the Hall of Fame, Gosselin has always underlined linebacker Maxie Baughan making every Pro Bowl in the 1960s.

"Never been discussed," Gosselin says.

Parrish also has the burden of being a great kick returner, another ability underestimated by the Hall. Billy "White Shoes," Johnson is the returner on the NFL's 75th anniversary team but has been ignored by the selectors.

"Never been discussed," Gosselin says.

What can be discussed is how blessed the Bengals were to have two Hall worthy players on the corner. Although both were named to just one All-Pro team, the Bengals were in the NFL's top ten defensively four of the seven years Riley and Parrish were a tandem while reaching three postseasons.

Riley never made a Pro Bowl, in part, some believe, because his quiet, steady play was overshadowed by the flamboyant, often spectacular Parrish. Some also believe Parrish made those Pro Bowls because of his abilities in the kick game. But he still made those teams.

"I didn't vote myself on those teams," Parrish says. "The players respected me. The coaches respected me."

Parrish made those teams just like Riley made those interceptions. Louis Breeden, who replaced Parrish after the trade, played with them both. He thinks they both deserve Canton.

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"Lemar has been overlooked for a long time. How many guys have eight Pro Bowls and aren't in?" Breeden asks because he knows. "I never hear anyone bring him up. It's part of disrespecting the Bengals. They don't give you the credit you deserve. He was one of the quickest players you've ever seen. He had long arms. He was quick, fast. Numbers don't lie."

You probably can't find two different great players of the same era when it comes to style. Parrish played like his hip wardrobe. Paul Brown hefting part of Parrish's ensemble and modeling it briefly in the locker room is an all-time Bengals moment. Riley wore a mask. It hid the greatest turnover maker at his position in the last 50 years.

"They were opposites," Breeden says. "I think that's why Lemar made all those Pro Bowls and Ken Riley did not because he was animated. He talked. You knew when he made a good play because he let you know. He was doing back then what guys are doing now. But he backed it up.

"Ken Riley didn't lack for anything in terms of skill and talent. He was quick and fast and tracked the ball better than anyone who ever played the game. Kenny could not only cover, but he could pick the ball off. What he did intercepting the ball had nothing to do with who was the No. 1 or No. 2 cornerback. He should have made several Pro Bowls."

Breeden goes back 40 years to the Bengals' first Super Bowl, that strange championship game they fell behind, 20-0, before nearly catching the 49ers in a 26-21 loss.

"We win that, I think all of those guys are in," Breeden says. "Lemar, Kenny Riley, Kenny Anderson, Isaac."

Back then, Parrish would tell you when he made a big play and nothing's changed.

"Who's done what I've done?" Parrish asks because like everyone else in Bengaldom, he knows he has the case to be made.

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