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Parker Makes Adjustment After Football

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Chris Parker, Cal State Northridge quarterback. One in an occasional series.

August 03, 1996|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Playing quarterback can be a pain in the neck. Just ask Chris Parker.

Four years after taking his last snap in a brief but well-traveled pro football career, Parker still feels the effects of countless sacks and blind-side hits. His head is nearly immobile as he walks around his office in Woodland Hills. A chiropractor's office.

On the scale of occupational irony, a chiropractor with a stiff neck ranks somewhere between a dentist with a toothache and a car salesman at a loss for words.

Parker senses the humor of his predicament, flashing a broad smile as he recounts how a morning stretch caused a muscle spasm. Another reminder of his days throwing passes into the teeth of charging defensive linemen intent on knocking him on his backside.

Normally, Parker would be able to turn to one of his colleagues for relief, but this is a day off for the other chiropractors at the clinic. It has been that kind of week for Parker, who the day before learned his 1993 Mustang convertible was left vandalized in Santa Clarita after it was stolen.

None of it fazes him. As he has proved before, it takes more than a little adversity to keep him down. It was that way in 1985, when Parker arrived at Cal State Northridge and found himself fifth on the quarterback depth chart. He won the starting job and ended his two-year Matador career as the second-leading passer in school history.

Now he faces a challenge in establishing a chiropractic practice. He has been adjusting necks and backs since April, following his graduation from a Hollywood chiropractic college. Before that, he worked as a personal trainer when he wasn't trying to make the roster of a pro football team.

Parker, 31, of Encino, credits his mother for steering him toward his new career. Jane Parker died of cancer two years ago, but not before she prompted Chris to reach higher in life.

"I made good money being a personal trainer and I didn't want to go to four more years of school," said Parker, who earned a degree in kinesiology from Northridge in 1991. "I told my mom what I [earned], and she said, 'My chiropractor makes that every 15, 20 minutes.' "

That got Parker thinking about long-term career goals. After all, there isn't much of a market for aging personal trainers.

"I began thinking there was something bigger and better for me," he said. "I just didn't see much of a future as a personal trainer.

"Being a doctor, you get the respect of a doctor. I like trying to help people feel better about themselves and get well."

Actually, Parker had been searching for a rewarding profession since his football career ended in 1992 because of a severe knee injury. He tore all the ligaments and cartilage in his left knee after being sacked in a game playing for the defunct Sacramento Attack of the Arena Football League.

"That's what really forced me into becoming a chiropractor," he said.

Parker spent 3 1/2 years in chiropractic school learning how to manipulate body joints, especially the spine, to restore a person's nerve function. His only regret is his mother didn't see him graduate.

In the last days of Jane Parker's life, Chris would go to school, drive 75 miles to San Bernardino, where his mother was hospitalized, and return home to the Valley.

"The sad thing is that she was so into me going back to school," Parker said. "I thought she was going to be able to hold on until I graduated, but she never saw me become a doctor."

The second-youngest of eight children, Parker grew up in San Bernardino and lived an admittedly sheltered life. For instance, when he graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High, he didn't realize football was played at the community college level.

Parker, who played mostly defensive back in high school, thought his football career was over when he was ejected for fighting in the final game of his senior year. He was distraught.

"I had no idea JC [football] was an option for me," he said. "I thought I had to get a scholarship to a four-year university."

After spending an uneventful year at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Parker transferred to San Bernardino Valley College and blossomed as a quarterback after beating out the returning starter.

His choice of a four-year school came down to Northridge, which had a Division II football program, and New Mexico, a Division I school. The problem was, Parker didn't hear from New Mexico until a week before school started.

"It was really frustrating," he recalled. "I was pulling my hair out."

Parker said he was stunned when he found himself listed as the fifth quarterback at Northridge. Disillusioned, he called his parents (his father, Ted Parker, died of a heart attack in 1988) for advice.

Their reply: "Nobody said it would be easy."

Parker worked his way up the depth chart and earned the starting job a week before the 1985 season opener by completing 41 of 51 passes in an intrasquad scrimmage. Coach Tom Keele installed the run-and-shoot offense that season, and Parker thrived in it.

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