Long before Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Josh Freeman and a few years before the legendary Doug Williams, there was Parnell “Paydirt” Dickinson.
In 1976, the inaugural season of the Bucs, the then 23-year-old Parnell scored a place in history as the team’s first black quarterback.
“Making it and being successful because people were coming behind me. I had to do that so I guess that was my driving force,” Dickinson said.
Drafted in the 7 th round from Mississippi Valley State, Dickinson remembers the tremendous pressure he felt being first.
He also remembers the message from his coach.
“You just remember that there is nothing they can put before you that you can't do. Whether it's the play book or on the field. So that was kind of the mindset that I had when I came to Tampa that I was gonna make it regardless,” he said.
Despite of the team’s rough start, he did make it.
The Bucs made history that first year, albeit not the kind they wanted. They became the first NFL team to not win a single regular season game, but Parnell says it wasn’t a total loss.
“There were some great relationships that developed as a result of that. There are guys that were on that team right now that I still communicate with,” he said.
Parnell and his teammates celebrated a reunion last December at Raymond James stadium when their coach, the late John Mckay, was inducted into the ring of fire.
He says the NFL has come a long way since he played. He remembers the challenges and racial stigma he and other black quarterbacks faced. Many questioned whether they were smart enough to play the game.
“Look at myself, look at Doug Williams, look James Harris, look at Joe Gilliam, the list goes on and on and on. Yeah it was something we had to dig deep within us to make sure that was something never said about us that was never a truth about that in us,” he said.
At his home in Lutz, he relives his glory days every day. The walls of his man cave are covered with memorabilia.
His den is a shrine to the Bucs, by the way, he likes the old uniforms better. He married his college sweetheart Ernestine.
They have two children and three grandchildren. Ernestine calls her husband a shining example of a winner, both on and off the field.
”We came to this community from a small town. He came here and after he wasn't a Buccaneer anymore. He stayed here and he worked. I thought that goes a long way in the community,” she said.
These days, Parnell spends his time coaching the next great quarterback, his 12-year-old grandson Jalin.
“I was like wow! Were you proud were you shocked. I was all of that. Proud, shocked. You know I’m just out there with the kid playing around. I didn't know he could do anything like that.” Ernestine says Jalin is a carbon copy of his grand-dad.
But Parnell hopes Jalin and the community will remember him for more than just his accomplishments on the field.
Parnell is still involved with the NFL, he's been a uniform inspector for the league for 15 years.
He also runs a daycare center for low income families in Tampa and is a leader in his church in Carrollwood.
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President Barack Obama says Nelson Mandela earned his place in history through struggle, shrewdness, persistence and faith.