Maybe Dave Parks is being modest. Maybe his perception wasn’t the reality. Or maybe it was just the times.
It’s hard to imagine a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft being an unknown or something similar, but Parks perceived it that way and says he wasn’t alone.
“People would call me on the phone from other cities, (saying) ‘Who are you? What did you do? Why did they draft you?’” Parks said last week from his home in Austin.
There’ll be none of that on Thursday when the first round of the NFL draft unfolds, even if someone such as Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack or Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles is first off the board. Players from non-BCS schools have been dissected, their strengths and weaknesses hashed over, just as much as those from the most high-profile programs.
This year’s draft is the 50th anniversary of when a Texas Tech wide receiver went No. 1 overall in a different age — before the Internet, before Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay loudly debating prospects, before prime-time coverage.
Back then, going No. 1 wasn’t a big deal. Oh, maybe it was to some, but not to Parks.
“I’m assuming it’s a great honor,” he said. “I think I’d rather have had it than not have it, for sure, but I didn’t know what was going on. I just thought, ‘If they’ll give me a shot, I’ll make their team.’”
The hard press
That’s not to say Parks’ draft weekend contained any less drama than what goes on nowadays. It sounds wilder than anything Jace Amaro, Tech’s latest All-America pass catcher, is likely to experience in the next few days.
In the early 1960s, the upstart AFL provided direct competition for talent with the NFL. For several years, the two leagues conducted their drafts head-to-head. The 1964 draft unfolded from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, 1963 — right after the Texas Tech season ended and the week after the Kennedy assassination.
Parks had been a consensus All-American, even though the Red Raiders went 10-20 in the three years he lettered.
Parks went No. 1 in the NFL draft to the San Francisco 49ers, though in the days leading up to it the full-court press came from the Dallas Cowboys, who had the fourth pick, and from the AFL’s San Diego Chargers.
Parks spent draft weekend in Dallas, where he says Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt spread an array of cash in front of him on a conference room table to lay some groundwork.
“I don’t know if it was five thousand (dollars) or 10 thousand,” Parks said, “but it was a lot of money for a college kid to be looking at, all spread out. I took a look, and I never touched it. I just looked at it.”
Parks said the then four-year-old AFL posed no threat to whatever NFL team selected him — he preferred the more established league. He viewed the Cowboys’ cash offer as an inducement to make sure he wasn’t lured away.
“He (Brandt) was telling me how the new league is trying to cripple the NFL and all of this,” Parks said. “I just told him, ‘I’m not going to the AFL. I’m going to the NFL if I’m good enough to make a team.
“He said, ‘Well, don’t you think this money would come in handy in case we don’t get a chance to take you?’ I had nothing, really, to talk to him about. I just told him all I wanted was a chance to play, and then we’d see how things play out.”
The Cowboys’ big show turned out to be a moot point when the 49ers started the draft by taking the Texas Tech All-American. In the AFL draft, the Chargers used their fourth-round pick — No. 32 overall in the eight-team league — on Parks.
That he slid that far apparently was no indication of declining interest on the Chargers’ part. It’s just that, in the days leading up to the draft, their frantic search to find him proved fruitless.
Proving his worth
Dave Parks wasted no time proving he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. His second year in the league, 1965, Parks led the NFL in catches (80), receiving yards (1,344) and receiving touchdowns (12). His 49ers led the league in scoring, averaging 31 points a game.
Parks made first-team All-Pro that year and second-team All-Pro the next. Never mind that Parks had never heard of 49ers quarterback John Brodie when Parks was drafted or that during his rookie season, he sometimes wasn’t on the same wavelength.
In 1964, Parks just couldn’t grasp some of what Brodie tried to convey.
“When I went out that second year, I told John, ‘You were talking to a moron last year, and I don’t know how you put up with me,’” Parks said.
Actually, Parks made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, debuting with 36 catches for 703 yards — a 19.5 yards per catch average — and eight touchdowns.
But he was just getting started.
“In the offseason, I looked at all the films the 49ers could get to me,” Parks said, “and during that span I learned so much. And then little things would click in. ‘Oh, that’s what he was asking me about.’ ‘Oh, that would have been great.’
“That second year, they couldn’t stop us. If we’d have had a decent defense, we could have won the whole thing that year, I think.”
In 1966, Parks made the Pro Bowl for the third year in a row after finishing top five in the NFL in catches (66) and receiving yards (974).
He’d never have it so good again. The former Red Raider suffered a crushing ribs injury early in 1967, missed five games and says he took painkilling shots all season to numb the pain.
At the end of the year, unable to come to terms on a new contract, Parks played out his option. He signed with the New Orleans Saints, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle then forced the Saints to give the 49ers two first-round picks as compensation.
Parks spent five years in New Orleans, during which time the lowly Saints never won more than five games and twice went 2-11-1.
Who knows how things might have played out if the San Diego Chargers, with Hall of Fame passing guru coach Sid Gillman and Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth, had persuaded Parks to join thier party in 1964.
Who to believe
Imagine the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft not being rock-solid certain he’s the No. 1 overall pick in the draft — after the fact.
But Dave Parks wasn’t convinced, at least not immediately, that his NFL rights belonged to the 49ers.
Such was the landscape in December 1963 with the shenanigans and maneuverings of NFL teams and their rivals from the AFL.
“I don’t know when I really thought they had drafted me,” Parks said. “I really didn’t have any idea. I didn’t trust any of them I talked to. I knew they were trying to get players. They were running around, throwing money around. I just let all that go and didn’t worry about it, and sure enough it happened.”
The days before, during and immediately after the draft, Parks spent in Dallas and his hometown of Abilene. 49ers general manager Lou Spadia, who died in February 2013, shadowed Parks back to Abilene and Lubbock afterward.
The whole time, the Chargers had been trying to reach him, too.
“I met some people from San Diego, and they had called numerous times at my mom and dad’s house, trying to get in touch with me on Friday and Saturday and Sunday,” Parks said. “My mom said the phone just kept ringing.
“She’d tell them the room number I was in, and they’d say, ‘No, he’s not in that room. Could it be the one next door?’
“And my mom would say, ‘Go look and see. I don’t know where he is.’”
Ultimately, someone from the Chargers got in touch with Parks. They even had a chance to make their pitch. Some time would pass before Parks, skeptical and not wanting to rush into a contract without advice, signed with the 49ers.
“San Diego finally got a hold of me,” Parks said, “and they said they had more trouble than anybody ever had finding someone, because Dallas, I think, had told them, ‘No, that Parks kid isn’t here.’”
The Chargers had no chance, though. Parks’ mind was made up. He wanted to play in the NFL. That was the goal.
“Had I not been good enough to do that,” he said, “I would have been glad to join the AFL. I got a contract in the NFL, and that’s what I was looking for.”
The fact he was the No. 1 overall pick makes Parks open-ended question about whether he was good enough sound much too modest. Fifty years ago, that’s how he felt.
“I had some people telling me I was going to be the number-one pick,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Well, so what? All I want to do is play.’”
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