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Leapin' large

Kenny Anderson once referred to Isaac Curtis as "Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice." Then that must make Lemar Parrish Deion Sanders before Deion Sanders. At the very least, Ed Reed before Ed Reed.

"If Leapin' played today," says former teammate Dave Lapham, "he'd own ESPN in more ways than one."

Lapham played with "Leapin' Lemar" in that velvet wall-to-wall decade before SportsCenter. The hot, high-rolling '70s bounced crazily from Saturday Night Fever to Son of Sam like a punt off Riverfront Astroturf and Parrish, the six-time Pro Bowl cornerback, boogied into the time capsule with long feather hats, longer mink coats, and even longer touchdown runs.

"I've never been back, but I really enjoyed my time in Cincinnati," says Parrish 30 years after the trade. "It was just business and I understand that. The fans were great and I still keep in touch with some of the guys."

! **Lemar Parrish** (Wireimage photo)

Parrish may understand the June 26, 1978 deal that sent him and defensive end Coy Bacon to the Redskins for the first-round pick that turned out to be running back Charles Alexander.

After all, he was in a contract dispute with Paul and Mike Brown, and the unpredictable Bacon had worn out his welcome. But for the life of him, all 61 years, Parrish can't imagine why he isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He's been asked long before he discovered he's on the inaugural Virtual Hall of Fame ballot that was unwrapped this month.

So Leapin' had no problem leaping.

"I must be mistaken because I thought the Hall of Fame was for individuals and not teams," he says. "And we had some great teams in Cincinnati, but I thought the Hall of Fame is for individuals. You can put up my stats against anybody. When I was a little kid, I dreamed about being one of the greatest that ever played."

Parrish made the Pro Bowl two more times in Washington, giving him a total of eight in a 13-year career that ended with one season in Buffalo in 1982. Of the 10 pure cornerbacks in the Hall, only Willlie Brown and Mike Haynes went to more with nine Pro Bowls each.

And only Deion with 19 and the recently elected Rod Woodson with 17 have scored more miscellaneous touchdowns than Parrish. Woodson went in the Hall last week and Sanders is next.

Parrish was a one-man RiverFest, exploding for 13 touchdowns in his eight Bengals seasons with four interception returns, four punt returns, three fumble recoveries, a kick return, and a blocked field goal return.

And no one in the NFL has since touched his 1974 club record of 18.8 yards per his 18 punt returns, complete with movie-set clothes made by his St. Louis seamstress.

That was Lapham's rookie year, when for the third and last time Parrish broke two returns for touchdowns in the same game with a 93-yard punt return and a 47-yard fumble return in a 28-17 win over Washington at Riverfront.

OK, Deion for the '90s cable crowd. Ed Reed for the Internet era.

"He was the leading scorer in that game," says Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst. "If there was one punt or kick I needed returned for a touchdown, Leapin' is the guy I would pick. The guy was a scoring machine. He had unbelievable instincts. And he was a flamboyant guy, a big-time dresser."

When Lapham gets to his Virtual Hall of Fame ballot, Parrish is one of his 10 picks as a true game-changer. He knows why Parrish and the cornerback who played next to him, Kenny Riley, aren't enshrined.

"Before cable TV, before ESPN, if you played in a small market and didn't get to a Super Bowl, nobody ever heard of you," Lapham says. "Cincinnati, Kansas City, Buffalo. It just didn't happen. That's the way it was."

With Parrish's luck, even the trade got overshadowed. The Reds' Pete Rose was 12 days into a 44-game hitting streak that rolled right into training camp.

Parrish doesn't believe his post-career problems have anything to do with it. In what he considers more important and demanding than his football career is the victory in his two-year rehab battle with cocaine addiction.

"That should have nothing to do with it; all that happened after I played," Parrish says. "When it was becoming the most important thing in my life, that's when I knew I needed help. But I did it and I was able to move on and help kids."

Parrish shares his native Florida (Riviera Beach) with Sanders and Reed but the call came from his alma mater, the historically black college Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.

When the school decided to revive its football program in 1999, Parrish joined up as a defensive assistant and then was named the head coach in 2005 at the place where he caught the Bengals' eye as a big-time small-school running back before they picked him in the seventh round in 1970.

But it is 1969 no more. With money tighter than ever before Parrish's run ended this past season after just six victories and he is now en route to building a new home outside of Atlanta with his wife of 10 years. His three sons are grown.

"I didn't have all the things we needed to compete with, like the number of scholarships," Parrish says. "I enjoyed working with the kids, helping them with off-field things and trying to help them become men. I miss it. I like working with kids. I'd like to stay in it. "

Parrish loved his coaches in Cincinnati, including the old man. It wasn't unusual to see Paul Brown take off his own porkpie hat and grab one of Parrish's garish lids that ranged from a flamingo to a four-alarm fire and put it on his head.

"A funny man; a great man," Parrish says. "I had a lot of respect for him. I had great admiration for his character. I liked Mike, too. But it's a business. He was a businessman and I understand that, and they made the trade."

Parrish says he made himself into a cornerback after being a running back but he also praises defensive coordinator Chuck Weber for teaching him the technique of the position.

Which is kind of funny because when Parrish talks about that fantasy secondary, he says Riley was the technician with his club-record 65 interceptions.

"I was a gambler," he says of his style that yielded 25 picks in 105 Bengals games.

Throw in Pro Bowl safety Tommy Casanova, and the air space around Cincinnati was restricted.

"Kenny was an outstanding corner. I call him a technician. We really held down the corner," Parrish says. "They didn't throw the ball to my side. I had the blazing speed. They couldnt throw the ball deep at all. With Paul Brown, that's all we played was man-to-man, and you weren't going to beat me."

The reason he got 21 interceptions in just 54 games in Washington?

"They didn't know me in the NFC. They didn't know what I could do and they were throwing it at me," he says. "I said, 'What is this?' "

Parrish, who ended up with 47 interceptions, thinks Riley should also be in the Hall. They each have more interceptions than the 40 of Cardinals cornerback Roger Wehrli, inducted two years ago after seven Pro Bowl seasons.

"I've got nothing bad to say about Roger Wehrli because he was a very good player," Parrish says. "But so were we."

Parrish also backs two other teammates. He says he never faced a quarterback better than Anderson and that Curtis was simply the best wide receiver he ever faced. Better, he says, than Steelers Hall of Fame receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

"People didn't understand; I played my games during practice," Parrish says. "Isaac got me ready to play everybody. He was fast and a great catch of the ball. And he was clever and he had technique."

"Kenny Anderson was able to throw a football 35 yards on a line. It would never leave the ground. It was his (accuracy) and his ability to read defenses."

But Parrish can slip out of the memories and give advice to those troubled by addiction. If he was a gambler on the field, he advises patience off it.

"I went in for treatment for three months and I could have left," he says. "But I knew I wasn't ready. I checked myself back in for another year and a half. I didn't think it could be a problem or that I wasn't strong enough. Football was easier that way because it was God-given. I found out it was greater than myself.

"In order to beat it, it has to be the primary thing in your life. You can't cut yourself off and make it secondary."

He says he's gratified and ready to get to the next step.

"I don't dwell on the past," he says. "My glass is half full."

But as Lapham can attest, memories of Leapin' can overflow.

"Nowadays," says Lapham, just back from the Super Bowl whirl, "he would have been all over the place."  

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