When Glenn Parker first entered the Giants' locker room in March, some of his new teammates did not know quite what to make of the 312-pound, bald-headed, multitattooed man now in their midst.
"Glenn walked into the weight room one day with all of us hanging around," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "And he says real loud: `I just want to know how someone with a pathetic body like mine has played 11 years in this league. Wow, look how fit you guys are. And look at me. Man, it's a tragedy.'
"Everybody just fell down laughing. And we knew we had ourselves a personality."
Ten months and one shockingly successful season later, the free-agent acquisition is still entertaining his colleagues. The other day, Parker entered the locker room wearing a floppy, furry cap and heavy plaid jacket, looking as if he had just come in from some backwoods ice fishing.
"Glenn," Parker's fellow offensive lineman Luke Petitgout said, "you can't be a hick and a wine connoisseur at the same time. It's one or the other."
Parker laughed. "Yes I can," he said. "That's the whole point."
Parker, the Giants' left guard, has been a key element of a revamped offensive line that many consider the most improved part of the Super Bowl-bound Giants. But it has been Parker's unforeseen role as the offense's emotional rudder that has been most surprising. He has done it with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a multilayered personality.
As Giants Coach Jim Fassel said today: "I wanted some guys with personality on the offensive line." The coach then added with a laugh: "And boy, did I get it."
This week, Parker also adds something to the ascendant Giants that they need in their locker room: Super Bowl experience. Parker went to four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills.
"I'm 0 for 4, but there's a lot learned in each of those games," Parker said. "Mostly, that it hurts to lose. Each time."
Reared in California, Parker calls himself "the classic beach bum." He did not play high school athletics. But he took up football at a California junior college and became a two-year starter at the University of Arizona. Drafted by the Bills in 1990, he was a rookie special-teams player less than a year later in Super Bowl XXV against the Giants.
He was blocking on the right end when Scott Norwood's game-winning field-goal attempt went wide right.
"I watched the ball go up and I thought it had a shot because Scott's kicks usually hooked to the left," Parker said today in the Giants' locker room. "But this one went straight. It still upsets me."
Returning to Tampa for another Super Bowl involving the Giants, Parker likes to say that he's "going almost full circle."
"To say I've gone full circle would mean I'm going to go back and lose on another field goal," he said. "Please, not that."
It was during his days in Buffalo that Parker became a gourmet cook and connoisseur of fine wines. A media arts major at Arizona, Parker also recently served an internship at a California winery because he wants to pursue dual careers in broadcasting and the wine industry. He rides Harley-Davidson motorcycles and still has the 1970 Plymouth Fury he drove in college. As for the tattoos that grace his upper body, when photographers are taking pictures of players in the locker room, Parker is always careful to cover them with a towel.
"I don't like to send the wrong message," he said. "They were a youthful indiscretion."
Parker's diverse interests make him an interesting guy to have around during long meetings of film study.
"He'll launch into this description of that night's dinner," left tackle Lomas Brown said today. "He'll say, `I'm going to take this steak and marinade it in olive oil and sear it in a pan and add this and that.' I'll tell you, he gets my mouth watering. We're not getting a whole lot of football talk done, but he's got me hungry."
Parker, 34, is good for more than conversation. Used in combination with Brown on the left side, he has successfully protected the blind side of quarterback Kerry Collins. Having played the previous three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Parker is seen as a seasoned voice on the sideline.
"Glenn is a guy they turn to for a certain calmness," Fassel said. "When things are going wrong, you'll hear Glenn saying, `All right, don't worry. This is what they're doing and this is what we'll do.' "
Parker is also responsible for initiating the tailgating parties the offensive linemen conduct in the Giants Stadium parking lot after games. Parker asked stadium authorities for a grill and a 55-gallon drum so they could build a wood fire to keep themselves and their families warm. Parker won't cook for this party, he wants to keep the menu simple, though a sampling one Sunday nonetheless included marinaded sirloin tips, teriyaki chicken, Italian sausage, kielbasa, and, of course, hot dogs.
The linemen's tailgating has been a postgame rallying point for players from both sides of the football. "My job," said starting center Dusty Zeigler, "is to make sure all the food gets eaten."
Parker, Brown and Zeigler have joined right guard Ron Stone, who is going to the 2001 Pro Bowl, and Petitgout, who was shifted from left guard to right tackle, to make not only a dependable unit but also one that the defensive players respect. The last two seasons, the Giants' defensive leaders, Jessie Armstead and Strahan, thought the Giants offensive line — notably tackles Scott Gragg and Roman Oben — lacked toughness and resolve.
"When you smack someone in practice and they don't give you a fight back," Armstead said of last year's offensive line, "then you wonder how they're going to respond to the same thing in a game. As soon as these guys got here, it was obvious right away that they were going to give you a fight back. They weren't taking nothing from nobody."
Parker shrugs and smiles at the notion that he's a fighter.
"I don't talk like that," he said. "My father was in World War II and active during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He doesn't talk much about the combat he saw, probably with good reason. But you won't see any of us walking back to the huddle with our heads down either."
Parker, in the end, has a more simple theory for how to build team confidence and chemistry, the elusive components of all winning teams.
"I just make fun of myself," Parker said. "That makes all the guys laugh."
Jan 18, 2001