Hall made huge imprint on early Mississippi football history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 10, 2005

[2/10/05] Parker Hall rarely talked about his football exploits from his days at Ole Miss and a short career in the National Football League.

He rarely attended Ole Miss alumni events because he shied away from being the center of attention. The most many people could get out of him about his playing career was printed on a football card a son had made up for him. He gave them out freely to anyone who wanted one – or many more if the case warranted.

The card told the story of one of football’s true pioneers. You hear names like Red Grange and Sid Luckman and an instant connection to football’s beginning days occurs. Today the names Brett Favre and Peyton Manning conjure up images of greatness in America’s most popular sport. Favre and Manning throw the ball with seeming ease, racking up tremendous numbers.

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Both could easily look to Parker Hall and give a small thank you.

Hall was one of the original passing quarterbacks. He completed more than 100 passes in his rookie season – the most in the league that year. He set then-NFL records for points scored, earned rookie of the year and most valuable player honors in the same season.

He was offered a contract that would pay him $200 a week and held out for $225. He worked at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City ferrying patrons around in a rickshaw. He served in the military during World War II, then played one final season of professional football in San Francisco.

The costs of raising a family became too much of a burden. Without the luxury of million-dollar signing bonuses and exorbitant shoe endorsement contracts, Hall gave up football in 1946 to raise his family.

Fifty years later, he moved to Vicksburg, exercising at the YMCA and working part time at the Isle of Capri Casino. He greeted customers with a smile and occassionally a football card of himself.

Bobby Robinson, associate city attorney for Vicksburg and a former Ole Miss standout in the 1960s, remembers introducing many to Hall while at the YMCA. “I would tell them, ‘This is a unique piece of football history, right here,'” Robinson recalled.

On Tuesday morning, Hall died at age 89. He is still the only man to ever lead the NFL in passing in his rookie season. He’s a pioneer among the passing quarterbacks that are so common now. He was a pioneer of a sport that has grown into a near religion.

And he lived right here among us, handing out football cards that told the story of a career in a sport that has blossomed into what it is today.

Mississippi has lost one of its true sports legends.