Vaughn Parker says his roots as a Buffalonian had a lot to do with the fact he beat the odds as an NFL player.
The average NFL career is 3.3 seasons. Parker played 11 seasons, eight of them as a starting offensive tackle with the San Diego Chargers.
"I believe that grit and determination was bred from growing up in Buffalo, and it stuck with me," Parker said. "I think that's a product of the area. You have to be somewhat tough being from Buffalo, dealing with that snow and that wind."
"There's always situations that come up that can derail you from that path to success," Parker said. "But at St. Joe's football, we always prided ourselves on being tougher than the team we were playing. I think there's a general baseline level of toughness people have in Buffalo. I think that served me well."
Parker is one of the top offensive linemen ever to come out of Western New York. He will be honored on Nov. 1 as one of the 12 new members of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
After earning all-WNY and all-state honors at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, Parker starred at UCLA from 1991 to 1993. He remains one of only two UCLA offensive players to make first-team all-conference three straight years. The only other Bruin to do it was Heisman Trophy-winner Gary Beban.
The Chargers drafted the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Parker in the second round in 1994. He broke into the starting lineup the next season and started 107 games, until suffering a knee injury early in the 2003 campaign.
"I take pride in the fact I was able to play double digit years, which everyone believes they're going to do when they come in," Parker said. "I was able to navigate it. I was always prepared. I did it different ways."
"When I was younger it was because I could move a little bit, I was athletic," Parker said. "I didn't necessarily know what I was doing. I remember when I first became a starter, our center was Courtney Hall. We called him the boy genius. He went to Rice and was super smart. Literally there were times he'd yell at me, 'Hey Vaughn, block that guy.' "
Parker became a high-quality technician, good enough to play for five different head coaches with the Chargers.
"When I was younger, I was relying on athleticism," he said. "I couldn't necessarily read a defense. As I got older and I wasn't quite as athletic, then I could read a defense. By the end when it was all smoke and mirrors athletically. ... I was able to get the job done many different ways and lasting as long as I did."
He also was smart enough to adjust with each regime change in San Diego. He played four seasons for legendary offensive line coach Joe Bugel through 2001. Then the Chargers hired Marty Schottenheimer as head coach. He brought a different famous line coach, Hudson Houck.
"You have to re-prove yourself with every change," Parker said. "Some of the techniques Hudson taught were the exact opposite of what Bugel taught. I thought, 'I've had success for many years. I don't like these coaches.' I sat down one day and said: You know what? I don't have Joe Bugel anymore. I have Hudson Houck. I need to do it his way."
"As it turned out, Marty was one of my favorite coaches ever, and Hudson is my favorite O-line coach ever," Parker said. "You're never too old to learn new things. The hay is never in the barn. You have to be open. This is my situation now; let me adjust. Once I started to apply what he was teaching me, I started having success."
Parker, 46, has remained in the San Diego area since his retirement after the 2004 season and has been involved in various business ventures. He has two teenage daughters.
He was one of the five offensive linemen named to The Buffalo News' 50th-anniversary All-WNY football team in 2007.
In May, he received an executive masters of business administration from the University of Southern California, which gives him degrees from both of the great public universities in Los Angeles.
"You can't beat their network on the West Coast," he said. "A lot of what you want to do in business is not necessarily what you know but who you know. So I've got both aspects of that covered, having gone to both schools."
Parker has a sister still living in Buffalo, as well as a lot of extended family. While he has lived in Southern California for almost 30 years, he says he has not lost all of his East Coast sensibility.
"To this day, I don't wear sandals," Parker said. "That's just not my deal."