Atkins took credit for instructing Parker in the more subtle nuances of the game.

"I taught him how to cuss," he said. "When we lined up, I'd call him an ugly name and he'd say something back and I'd say, 'Jim, those two words don't even go together.' "

Parker's signature performance came early on, in the 1958 championship dubbed "The Greatest Game Ever Played." In the Colts' 23-17, sudden-death victory over New York, Parker dominated the Giants' heralded pass rusher, Andy Robustelli.

"I thought about him [Robustelli] all night before the game," Parker recalled. "Just pronouncing his name scared the hell out of me. Well, he beat me a couple of times that day, but that was it."

After the game, sitting at his locker, it was Robustelli's turn to praise: "He [Parker] is the best I've played against."

Parker could be a pain on game day, teammates said.

"He got really worked up in the locker room; you had to stay out of his way," said Jim Mutscheller, the Colts' tight end. "Jim would move around without seeing people and just run into them without realizing it. I'd be black-and-blue before the game started."

Parker's appetite was legend. He routinely struggled to make weight, no thanks to players like Nutter and guard George Preas, who roomed opposite him in training camp at McDaniel (then Western Maryland) College.

"Every night after practice, George and I would bring back two hamburgers and lay them on our desk, to bait Jim," Nutter said. "Sure enough, Parker would find some excuse to come into the room and stomp around awhile - and when he left, the burgers were gone. He'd scarfed them right up."

An iron horse, Parker played in 139 consecutive Colts games before injuring his knee in 1967. Rather than slow the team, he retired during the season, a move that coach Don Shula called "maybe the most unselfish act in sports history." The Colts were 10-0-2 at the time.

Much of the rest of his life, Parker spent receiving accolades and tending his package goods store in West Baltimore. The store, at Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard, closed in 1999 after Parker suffered a stroke.

"Jim ran a business in a pretty difficult neighborhood, but he did it with real class," said former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "The biggest problem was combating the growing drug trafficking in that community, but he made it clear he wouldn't tolerate it inside his establishment."

Schmoke said it wasn't uncommon for Parker to storm out of his store in pursuit of a suspect in a purse-snatching or mugging.

Parker was the first full-time offensive lineman elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame - one of five sports shrines to honor him (the others were Ohio State University, the state of Georgia, the Colts and the College Football Hall of Fame).

He was a unanimous choice for the NFL's 75th anniversary team. And when the New York Daily News commissioned a poll to select the 50 top pro football players of the century, Parker finished No. 20, just ahead of quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino.

"I thank God for giving me the strength and courage and knowledge to play this game," Parker told The Sun. "It didn't just happen. Someone was looking over my shoulder."

Parker is survived by his wife, the former Esther Hester, and 13 children: Jimi of Reisterstown, David of Owings Mills, Pam, Sheri and Diane of Woodlawn, Brian of Randallstown, Ernest and Tina of Baltimore City, Miasha and Anwar of Catonsville, Christian of Columbia, Candace of New Jersey and Deborah of Dumfries, Va.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

Sun staff writer Rasheim T. Freeman contributed to this article.