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TAKING A FLING : Former CS Northridge Quarterback Chris Parker Earns a Shot With the Rams After Stops in Two Foreign Leagues

June 09, 1989|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

But not for long. Parker signed a contract with the London Capitals of the European Football League and spent the summer leading that club to the semifinals of the EFL's postseason tournament.

Then, back home, back at the health club, back without much of an apparent future in the pro game in this country, Parker crossed paths with Tony Maddocks.

The football felt secure in Parker's hands as he took the center snap. Fading back, he was all business. Too much to worry about now than to luxuriate in his surroundings. He waited until running back Robert Delpino ran his route, watching the onrushing defense out of the corner of his eye. It was one of the easier throws he had ever been asked to make, just a short 10-yard down-and-out. Only the circumstances made it difficult.

Maddocks was a former receiver at Long Beach State who had had a cup of coffee with the Rams a decade ago as a free agent. Actually, it turned out to be more like a sip of coffee. Maddocks broke a foot in a preseason scrimmage and never returned.

Now a Valley businessman and a customer of the health club, Maddocks overheard Parker talking about his quarterback aspirations and asked if he wanted to go out and throw the football around sometime.

Parker was faced with a moment of truth. He had kept telling himself he was good enough to play in the NFL, but, suddenly, here he was faced with a man who could tell him how good he really was, a man who had caught footballs thrown by people like Vince Ferragamo and Pat Haden.

After they were finished playing catch, the young quarterback nervously asked, "Do I throw as hard as NFL guys?"

Parker wasn't just looking for a pat on the back.

"I thought I was good," Parker said, "but maybe I thought I was better than I really was. I needed someone else to tell me that I had the arm strength and that I was right up with some NFL quarterbacks."

Maddocks' reply caused Parker's heart to leap.

"You remind me of Vince Ferragamo," Maddocks said. "You have the dark complexion. You're good-looking. You have a great arm and you understand football. You have the ability. It's just a matter of showing what you can do. There are thousands of great athletes looking for the chance, just like you are. But once you have the opportunity, you have to do it."

It was Maddocks who wound up getting Parker that opportunity. Last January, he invited Parker to an annual flag football game that Maddocks and his old friends play every year on Super Bowl Sunday. In attendance was Maddocks' old high school coach, Billy White. White, who was impressed with Parker, knows Dick Coury, the Rams' quarterback coach.

White made a call and before he knew it, Parker had a call of his own, from the Rams. Could he come to Rams Park in three days for a tryout?

"I couldn't believe it," Parker said. "I was so nervous because I hadn't done anything in a while. I hadn't thrown a football in two weeks and I hadn't punted since the previous August."

Parker was supposed to show up March 6. Rather than ask for a delay, he did.

"I couldn't worry about it," he said. "To heck with the nervousness. Hopefully, I would not be that rusty."

With about six coaches watching, Parker threw 50 balls, punted six times and was told to come into Coury's office.

Parker figured, or rather hoped, that he would be asked back for another look.

The Rams, however, had something else in mind.

"You've got a strong arm and a good release," Coury told him. "We'd like to offer you a contract."

Parker tried to stay cool, but somewhere in his head, bells were ringing and firecrackers exploding.

He signed a one-year deal with no guarantee and, two months later, found himself in the team's off-season mini-camp, playing with people he had only seen on television and running an offense he had only seen in his dreams.

"He's kind of refreshing to work with," Maddocks said. "Anything can happen once you get out there. Being a free agent is not an easy row to hoe, but he knows now he has the ability. I feel like I'm almost living out my own dreams of 10 years ago through him."

Those dreams are still far from reality. The Rams have veteran quarterbacks in starter Jim Everett and backup Mark Herrmann. Additionally, they drafted Jeff Carlson out of Weber State.

"I'm a long shot," Parker said. "Everybody knows that. That's just common sense. But I can also be a backup punter and they've been having me hold on kicks, which I think is great. The more I can do, the more they are going to need me. And if I do get released, hopefully, somebody else will have seen me.

"Right now, I'm still so overwhelmed just to be there. I'm shocked when I think about the roads I had to go to get there--through high school, two junior colleges and a Division II school. I have always taken the long way around. So I'm still walking on cloud nine. Even if I don't make it, this is really something."

Parker lofted the ball in a smooth arc. Softly , it landed in the waiting hands of Delpino, who turned and headed upfield. Parker tried to control his elation. It was just a play run in mini-camp, but to Chris Parker, it might as well have been the Super Bowl.

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