Former Bengals CB Lemar Parrish on Battles with Lynn Swann, Being Overlooked
Welcome to our new rivalry edition of Steelers Interviews. Throughout the year, our Ron Lippock will be speaking with players you loved to hate from some of the Steelers’ biggest rivals.
Today, Ron spoke with former Bengals corner Lemar Parrish who played with Cincinnati from 1970-1977.
First, tell me a bit about your life after you retired from the NFL – what did you do after retirement?
After the NFL. I didn’t get my degree. I ended up getting into drugs and cocaine for a period of time. I got into a drug treatment center though – I recognized that I needed help and wanted to be able to support my family and myself. I decided to get my life together and got treatment. That took six months. But I knew I needed another year to get help – to adjust to mainstream society. While I was doing that I got an offer from the Mayor of Chattanooga and worked with him.
After that I went back to school – to my alma mater, Lincoln University. I got my degree – I was on the Dean’s List. I moved to Florida and taught school, then Lincoln decided it wanted to start up it’s football program again and hired me as a defensive backs coach. I became the defensive coordinator after that, then head coach. I ended up staying there for 10 years before I retired and moved to Atlanta.
As far as the rivalry with Pittsburgh went, was it more intense for the players or fans then?
I think it was more intense for the players just because of how things were situated then. It was such a tough conference – the Browns and Pittsburgh was our biggest opponents. And then Pittsburgh was stacked with talent on both sides of the ball. I think we matched up against them well though because of our speed and quickness. They were the better team but we did beat them a lot – and won the division in 1970. Pittsburgh though was always our toughest opponent.
Swann, Stallworth, and Bleier out of the backfield would give anyone problems. We always played man-to-man – we never played zone. Swann was always on my side and Stallworth was always on Ken Riley’s side.
What made Lynn Swann so great, from your perspective?
Swann was great – but to be honest I was too! Swann never beat us, per se. He had some big plays but he never won those games for Pittsburgh against us. I welcomed the challenge. They usually beat us but it was always a close game – especially in Cincinnati. In Pittsburgh they dominated – but they were still battles.
How did you match up against Lynn Swann – what made that matchup so good?
My quickness and desire to get in his face all of the time was a big factor. I made sure no one was going to beat me on the line of scrimmage, and when they did, I had the quickness and speed to recover and get back into the play and on top of you.
Lynn was good off of the line of scrimmage – I tried to take away those moves right at the line. To establish my position with him on the line of scrimmage and force the play where I waned it to go with him. We tried to take away the inside a lot. I challenged everything – I didn’t concede anything – long or short. I tried to wear Lynn down that way.
I also was a student of the game – I studied film on all the wide receivers from Swann to Warfield. I knew his tendencies and when he came off the line of scrimmage I had the vision because of those studies to pre-see things he’d do, if you know what I mean,
Anything specific you looked out for?
The thing is, Riley and I both played man-to-man. They let us do our thing on defense. I knew Swann liked those deep end routes – I knew that. My job was to take that away and stop him from making those big plays.
I was a running back in high school – I was always a threat with the ball. They didn’t really throw the ball as much at me. I always wanted to go after the ball went it came my way.
Any good memories of your time there?
Well it was a long time ago. I just remember when I was a rookie, playing them in minus 15 degree weather. They came in so prepared, with short sleeves, running around like it was 80 degrees outside! I had never been so cold before. I was wearing long johns and had to go in and change at halftime I was so cold!
Do you feel you and your fellow defensive players like Ken Riley were overlooked in Cincinnati?
We had market difficulties then. We didn’t get much publicity – we were a low-market team. No one knew about us. We weren’t publicized. I went to as many All-Pro games as guys like Mel Blount – I did the same things they did.
The problem in Cincinnati too was that we didn’t get compensated like other players because of the market we were in. We wanted to get paid tough – it was still a livelihood for us.
Right now, we are definitely under-rated as players – Ken and I both. No defensive back did any more than I did. I’m not sure why other guys are in the Hall of Fame and I’m not when I have the same or better stats than they have. I think it’s probably because they won more Super Bowls, but that’s not what makes a player great. Individual play is what makes a player great, and no one had better stats than me then.
Do you watch today’s NFL – what do you think of the game today?
I don’t watch it a lot. It’s gotten too soft now. Defensive backs can’t even touch guys now. I’m not sure how they do it -they can’t do anything. I can’t stand that. You have to be able to at least touch guys. And I know you need to protect guys from concussions, but you can’t make the game too soft. I just don’t watch it much now because of that.