Somewhere on the Colgate campus lurks an exciting quarterback named Tom Parr, a sturdy fellow with amazing agility and magical hands who appears on Saturday afternoons to dazzle the enemy and then is gone. The rest of the week there is this other Tom Parr, a round-shouldered history major with a slight potbelly who is listed as 5'11", 185 pounds but is shorter, and who, when he walks up one of the steep paths that crisscross the picturesque campus, wheezes. The two Parrs are driving the professional scouts batty. They say the quarterback is a super-super athlete. But then they look at the other Parr, the one who can recite Napoleon's game plan at Austerlitz, and they shake their heads.
Parr, who could hold a dozen Colgate offensive records before he graduates, is not concerned with the scouts. He long ago decided he was too short to play pro football and he put it from his mind. "If they phone me, wonderful," he says, "but I don't believe they will. People ask me all the time if I want to play pro football and I think about those guys 6'4" and 6'5" who are as fast as I am and who weigh around 230 or 240, or even 250, and I think, wow! Look at Franco Harris: he's 230 and he runs the 100 in less than 10 seconds. That's unbelievable!"
Since he was a 10th-grader in high school, Parr has been unbelievable, too. As a 5'8", 165-pound senior at Ithaca High in the Southern Tier of New York schools, he shattered many of that vast area's prep quarterback records. He was, of course, named to the Tier's all-star team. As a defensive back.
Yet he received very few scholarship offers. Syracuse wanted him, but to knock down passes, not to throw them. Parr said no. "I love to play football," he explains, "but I didn't want to do it as a job. And I didn't want to do it 24 hours a day, year-round." Cornell, which is in Ithaca, beckoned. He declined, reluctantly. "It's beautiful there, a great school," he says. "But it was in my hometown. I just thought I'd be better off getting away." Army wanted him badly. Tom Cahill, who once coached at Ithaca High, told him Army would send him to Manlius, a military prep school near Syracuse, for an additional year's physical and educational development. Parr said he would try it. That year Manlius played the Colgate freshmen in Hamilton, N.Y., a village of about 3,600 people and one traffic light in the Chenango Valley 49 miles southeast of Syracuse. Parr fell in love with the campus and the university. First he led Manlius to a 28-7 victory over the young Red Raiders. Then he asked someone to introduce him to the Colgate freshman coach.
October 14, 1973
"I asked him if there might be a place for me at Colgate. It hadn't taken me very long to discover at Manlius that the military wasn't for me," recalled Parr as he walked across the campus last week. Autumn had dressed Colgate's rolling grounds and the surrounding hills in a vivid wardrobe of reds, golds and oranges, and Parr waved a hand at the splendor. "It was just like this when I came up here. Beautiful. And the education matches the scenery."
The day Parr was accepted by Colgate was the day Coach Neil Wheelwright decided it was time the Raiders went to the Veer offense. "If I ever saw a young player with the potential to run the Wishbone, it was Tom," Wheelwright says. The coach spent a week in Texas learning the offense from Darrell Royal.
"I went there with the idea of using just a part of it," Wheelwright says. "But Darrell convinced me that the only way to use the Veer was to use it all, not just bits and pieces." Colgate went to the Wishbone Parr's freshman year, but the varsity junked it after the second game of the season. With Parr at quarterback, the freshmen were able to go undefeated.
In his first varsity season, 1971, Parr, operating the Veer, ran for 11 touchdowns, passed for six and accounted for 1,387 yards in total offense. He was named the Eastern College Athletic Conference's Sophomore of the Year.
"When that season began," says Wheelwright, "our opponents figured Tom looked so frail that all they had to do was hit him a few times and he'd be out. That was a mistake. They kept hitting him and he kept getting up, and meanwhile the rest of our offense was having a field day. Opponents soon quit that. Going after the quarterback all the time is not the way to defense the Veer."
Last season Parr really turned it on, accounting for 21 touchdowns and 1,927 yards in total offense, the eighth best in the nation and a Colgate record.
"He just keeps getting better and better," Wheelwright says. "There isn't another quarterback in the country who can run the Veer as well as Tom. And there aren't many coaches who know it as well."
This season Colgate got off to a fast start. With Parr running for three scores, passing for four more and accounting for 311 yards en route, the Raiders walloped Lafayette 55-21. Parr was named the Associated Press Back of the Week. Colgate has not had an All-America since 1932, but now Dave Leonard, the school's sports information director, began shipping out pamphlets on Parr. "I don't believe in these things," Leonard apologized. "But how else is a little guy from a little school going to get any ink? Anyway, I'll bet all those pamphlets get thrown in the wastebasket. That's what I'd do."
Then Cornell came in the next Saturday and overpowered Colgate 35-21, and although Parr added 237 yards to his total offense, the figure was lost in the wreckage. "It happens," said Parr later. "We just don't have enough people. Look at Cornell. They had some starting back who fumbled the first two times he had the ball and they replaced him with a guy who was just as good or better. We can't do that. We've got to go with what we've got."
Colgate does not have enough, it seems, as Yale put another damper on the season by winning 24-18 while holding Parr to 118 yards. It was a long bus ride home to Hamilton, but that is about as long as the gloom would last. As rivals discovered, no matter how often you knock that delicate-looking quarterback down, he is having too much fun not to get back up. There was the time last year when he threw a pass just a split second before being hit by a sturdy defensive end from Princeton. Both crashed heavily to the ground: Parr face down, the end sprawled on top, his mouth just inches from the quarterback's right ear. "How did the pass go?" the end whispered.
Parr squirmed around until he could look the bigger man in the eye. "Completed, of course," he whispered back. Then he grinned.