It was cold, not too cold, but great football weather in Atlanta GA. As we entered the room, the drum line was ratty tat tatting and you would think majorettes were somewhere about to throw down and a drum major about to get down. This was the Black College Football Hall of Fame, hosted by NFL Analysts Charles Davis and Steve Wyche. The inductees were WR Harold Jackson - Jackson State Univ., QB Parnell 'Pay Dirt' Dickinson - Mississippi Valley University, DL Gary 'Big Hands' Johnson - Grambling State University, DL Robert Porcher - Tennessee State University & S. Carolina University, DB/LB Isaiah Robertson - Southern University, and Head Coach Billy Joe - Cheney State, Central State University, Florida A&M University and Miles College. Quarterbacks Doug Williams and James 'Shack” Harris, founders and creators of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, have given over $250,000 in HBCU scholarships since its inception thanks to Arthur Blank of the ATL Falcons and Priority Payment Systems as the primary sponsors. The BCFHF introduced its inaugural award honoring Deacon Jones to one of four athletes who until the event, did not know the winner. Tarik Cohen of North Carolina A&T, was awarded the 'Deacon Jones Trophy.' The other nominees were Darius Leonard of South Carolina State, Lenard Tillery of Southern University and Malcolm Bell of NC Central. This award is the Heisman Trophy of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. Other football superstars that also attended the event were, Mel Blount-Pittsburgh Steelers, Hollywood Henderson-Dallas Cowboys, Too Tall Jones-Dallas Cowboys, Billy 'white shoes' Johnson-Miami Dolphins, William Andrews-Atlanta Falcons and Jimmy Giles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We attended the event in support of our friend Parnell Dickinson and in a recent interview he shared his story with us. (Tampa Bay Tammy & Daryl Johnson)
Humble beginnings is what got Parnell Dickinson to the Hall of Fame. As he reflected on how his parents raised him and how his coach had such an influence in his life, there was a sense of pride beaming from the audience to see this event as it unfolded. When asked what was the greatest event in his life, he said “when I met my wife Ernestine.” When Parnell talks about his football career, a name that was heard repeatedly is Coach Davis Weathersby. In junior high Parnell went out for the senior high team but things got rough and he quit the football team. When he got home, his mother made him go back to the school because she wasn't going to let him quit on a commitment that he made. He remembers as quarterback his first touch down pass was to Billy Bruster and they won the game 12 to 6. Because he was so good, Parnell starting practicing with the “big boys” and from there by the time school started he was the starting quarterback as a true freshman for his high school. He received many accolades as a high school athlete, from 'All Conference Champion to All State Champion' . Many schools were interested in Parnell but one night after a game a man was sitting at his kitchen table with his parents. He was rushing because he couldn't stay out late and his good friend Bill Dancy was driving his dads car so they were in a hurry. He quickly spoke to everyone but his dad made him sit down and listen to Coach Weathersby. The coach explained the benefits of going to an HBCU at Mississippi Valley and in a hurry Parnell shook his hand and ran out the door to get his party on because he only had about an hour left to stay out.
The night of his high school graduation was a Thursday and his school had activities planned for the weekend. A party on Saturday and a picnic on Sunday. He remembers, “After the party Saturday night, my parents woke me up early that Sunday morning at about 4:00 am. I'm thinking to myself, how cruel is that,, I can't have no fun!” “They drove me to the bus station, put me on a bus with 3 chicken sandwiches, some pound cake and a coca cola. At 5:30 am I was looking out the back of the bus window, scared, heart broken and a tear in my eye headed to Mississippi Valley University. When the bus pulled up at Mississippi Valley, another Trailways bus pulled up at the same time. Off steps this kid and I think to myself, boy he's tall. The kids name was Darren Bishop, a basketball player who has become a life long friend. As we were unloading the bus, a burgundy Marquis pulls up and the coach jumps out to greet us. Coach Weathersby got us set up and we were in a program called 'MAP'. I can't remember what it stands for but it lasted all summer long. Being in the program got me comfortable with my surroundings and being in college. By the time the 4th of July rolled around everyone was going home but because my parents couldn't really afford for me to come home for just 2 or 3 days, I stayed with Coach. This was another time I was feeling heart broken. Just think, from May to July I hadn't been home but finally in August I got the chance to go home for the weekend. I had already been throwing the football over the summer with the guys I started with, so when I returned to school, I was comfortable. I noticed the upper classmen started hanging back so that I could throw to them, too.”
Things were looking pretty good for Parnell as the team started to go to two a day practices. During one practice Parnell was injured when one of the players rolled up on his knee and it was swollen. After practice, he went to his dorm to rest up his knee. The next day, coach came and made him get out of bed and get out on the field, but this time he started practicing with the veteran players. The team started doing scrimmages and the first pass he threw was for a touch down to Robert Gaddis, who eventually became his go to guy. He remembers, “Before the season started, the way you found out if you made the team and you were going to travel was after the roster was posted. There were 5 upper classmen quarterbacks so I knew I hadn't made the team. Robert Gaddis made me get up and go see if I had made the team and there I was, #18. Then we played Alabama A&M. Thomas Pegues started and by the second quarter, we were losing 6 -0. During the second series of the second half the coach called for me to go into the game. He sent me on the field without a play and so I called our 86 Pass play and Gaddis caught it. Then we ran the ball on a Split G play. My next play was a fake 44Trap, 86 pass and my first college touchdown was to Robert Gaddis but we missed the extra point. In the 4th quarter we were tied 6 – 6 and the same 86 Pass but Z post to Gaddis and we ended up winning 13-6. We then played University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and they had a pregame meal. I ate a big steak because I had never had one by myself before. When game time came I was full and sluggish. Gaddis said to me “ I told you not to eat that damn food”. We ended up beating them 12 – 6 and Gaddis caught both touchdowns. When we played Southern University, it was then I realized I wasn't afraid to compete. We played them in Memphis TN at Crump Stadium and we had never beat Southern. It came down to who had the ball last and I ended up throwing a touchdown to Gaddis and for the first time we beat Southern. We were now 3 and O and number 1 in the nation for HBCUs. But the thing I remembered most about this game, it was my first time I had ever stayed all night in a hotel." They ended the season 5 and 6 but Mississippi Valley had a new star on their roster and his name was Parnell Dickinson. The last game of his senior year was against BCC, Bethune Cookman College and even though Mississippi Valley lost, Parnell's performance was spectacular.
While at the end of the year football banquet, Parnell received a phone call and when he got on the phone the voice said, “this is Ron Wolfe of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and we just drafted you as the 1st player in the 7th round." And the rest is history. Parnell also remembers he always wanted to be like James 'Shack' Harris, QB for the LA Rams. He would wear his long white socks and white shoes. He even emulated his moves at the line of scrimmage in the way he addressed the ball. Parnell attributes his success to having excellent parents that made him keep his commitments, an excellent coach and support system that wouldn't let him quit and by marrying well.
On Saturday February 25th in front of family and friends and the support system that he referenced in Atlanta GA, Parnell 'Pay Dirt' Dickinson was inducted to the Black College Football Hall of Fame, class of 2017.