Call it escape from New York, or specifically, Buffalo, which is not a bad place to escape in January. But, ooooooh, California? It’s so far away, maybe 2,500 miles?
And all those movies? All that police stuff on the TV shows? Maybe it’s just stories, but they don’t make all of it up, do they? They have to get all that crime and those car chases from somewhere. Perry Mason wasn’t defending people from Amherst Street.
And your uncle is in Michigan. Who do you know in California, all those miles away?
“I just didn’t want my baby boy all that far away,” says Arlene Parker-Dixon, laughing from Buffalo. “It was just so far.”
Her baby boy is Vaughn Parker, who weighs 300 pounds, can lift a small truck and plays right tackle at UCLA well enough to be on most preseason All-American lists. Five years ago, he was set on going to Michigan State, where he had an uncle close by and knew the football team had sent a few folks to the NFL.
“I had visited there and I loved it,” he says. “I really wanted to go there. I also went to Tennessee and Virginia, just to take the trips. My mom wanted me to take a trip out here to see what California was like.”
It was like shorts in January and palm trees in Westwood and his host, Frank Cornish, on his way to the San Diego Chargers, and all those people saying: “Have a nice day.”
It was like love at the first glimpse of the January sun after a trip that began in two feet of snow in Buffalo.
It was like, “Mom, I want to go there,” Parker says. And Mom suddenly realizing she had made a mistake in pushing her son to see America.
“No, not under any circumstances. It’s too far,” Parker-Dixon said, pushing Michigan State and family ties.
In the end, it took salesmanship. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue visited Buffalo and convinced Mom that, sure, Los Angeles had “Hunter” and “L.A. Law” and “The Terminator,” but Disneyland was close by.
“In the end, I couldn’t think of a reason for him not to go,” Parker-Dixon says. “And I also thought, ‘If it was me with the chance, that’s what I’d do.’ ”
Besides, there is the telephone, which Parker used to call his mother 14 times in his first 10 days in California. It’s still used at least twice a week, she says.
Parker’s roots remain in Buffalo, but opportunity is in Los Angeles. And opportunity grows with each game he grades out at 90% in a career that budded at right guard and has blossomed at tackle with “Bruin Blocks,” a lineman’s dream of personal victory in the push-and-shove with the guy in front of him.
“Some places call it ‘decleaters,’ or ‘pancakes,’ ” says Bob Palcic, the offensive line coach at UCLA and the judge of Bruin Blocks. “It’s where you absolutely dominate the defender across from you to the point that you put him on his back. They’re tough to get, and they’re what you strive for. It’s a total domination block, and it’s the one special moment that sometimes can occur only once a game.”
Or not at all. Bruin Blocks are so coveted that negotiations fail.
“We’ll kind of say, ‘Coach, I killed the guy,’ ” Parker says. “And he’ll say, ‘No, he’s not on his back.’ ”
There’s the added requirement that the Bruin be on top of the opponent until the whistle.
“When you do it early, you just know and he knows it’s going to be like that all day,” Parker says. “I usually help him up and talk to him, tell him, ‘Have a nice day.’ ”
You know he doesn’t mean it. “Well, first I use him to help me get up, push myself up on his chest or something.”
The talk is all part of his game. It helps him concentrate and can offer an edge.
“Some people hear, and it makes them better,” he says. “The better players hear and they want to demolish you all day.
“But other players just get mad and make a personal war with me, not caring where the ball is. (When the other player talks,) I don’t get so angry. I just hate the guy. On the field I hate him, but it’s not personal. After the game I’ll shake his hand and talk to him.”
This from an ordinarily quiet man who has learned that watching video of next week’s opponent, seeking the little clues, can separate the average player from a future pro.
“I want to have the best season I can have, help the team win,” he says. “But, selfishly, I want to give myself the best shot at the NFL.
“I used to say, ‘Coach, I don’t think that stuff is going to help me.’ But then last year I started to look at film.”
Says Palcic: “Vaughn . . . realizes that if he understands all the fine points at his position and of the game, he’s going to be in a position to make an awful lot of money. When you realize that, (film study) is a tremendous investment.”
But the lesson had to be learned the hard way. After a redshirt year in 1989 that was spent acclimating to college and life away from Buffalo, Parker played guard in 1990 and his eyes were opened.
“My first game was against Oklahoma and I was kind of nervous,” Parker says. “The guy in front of me--I don’t remember his name, but I remember his number, 78--gave me a rough day.”
Scott Evans, Oklahoma’s No. 78, remains the Sooners’ all-time sack leader.
And then there was Chris Mims, Tennessee’s All-American defensive end.
“It was my sophomore year and he was all over me,” Parker says. “I think I helped him go in the first round (of the NFL draft) that day. He just used me. He was talking. I thought, ‘This guy is talking garbage, but he’s backing it up.’ ”
He still is backing it up, with the San Diego Chargers.
The games stand out in what Palcic calls “a continuous learning process.”
“No one is technique-perfect, but it’s what you strive for,” Palcic says. “It’s the absolute proper step, hitting the proper landmark or aiming point, proper leverage--that’s what we are striving for all the time, and that’s what you have to do to be a great player.
“Tony Boselli is out of the same mold. In my opinion, the first-team All-American tackles are in this city. Players like Vaughn Parker and Tony Boselli don’t come along very often.”
Says Parker: “The perfect season for me is, we win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl, we play for a national championship, we win the national championship, I make All-American and my mom gets to see me on the Bob Hope show.”