With last night marking the first game of the 2023 NFL preseason, today marks just 37 days until the first Sunday of the NFL regular season. To celebrate the start of the year inching closer and closer daily, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 37, safety Tony Parrish.
Tony Parrish's path from Los Angeles to the Chicago Bears
Originally a native of Los Angeles, Parrish joined the nearby Marina High School in Huntington Beach, California. There, the future NFL star enjoyed a dominant high school career that included time spent on the program's football, basketball, baseball, and track and field teams. Parrish excelled in every sport he played, but it became quickly evident that football was his best sport, and after he graduated from high school, the defensive back elected to remain on the west coast and accepted an offer from the University of Washington.
In the then Pac-10, Parrish became an immediate difference maker on the Husky's backend. As a freshman, the Los Angeles native logged playing time in 10 of the team's games and totaled 21 tackles, a pass deflection, and two interceptions from the rover position. Parrish's production picked up slightly the following season, and he finished his sophomore campaign with 39 total tackles, six pass deflections, and an interception.
In his junior season, Parrish made the transition to free safety, replacing NFL draftee and future Super Bowl champion Lawyer Milloy in the secondary. Parrish finished his first season as a full-time starter with 71 total tackles, eight pass deflections, and two touchdowns, one of which was returned for a touchdown, the first of his collegiate career.
During his final season as an amateur, Parrish was a dominant force in the secondary and led the team in interceptions with four on the year. He also added 81 total tackles, the third most on the team, and four pass deflections.
Following the end of his collegiate career, Parrish was declared eligible for the 1998 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears were able to secure Parrish at the top of the second round with the 35th overall pick, making him just the ninth defensive back off the board. The Bears circled back to the University of Washington in the third round, selecting Parrish's college teammate and future starting center Olin Kreutz just 29 picks later. Parrish and Kreutz were two of ten Huskies selected during the draft, helping the program lead the nation in the number of players drafted that year.
Tony Parrish starts all 64 games for Chicago Bears
As a rookie, Parrish immediately became a full-time starter, serving as the team's free safety for all 16 regular season games. He logged an interception, four forced fumbles, 78 total tackles, and a sack throughout his first year. The Bear newcomer was also named to the NFL All-Rookie team at the conclusion of his first season. He was also named the team's rookie winner of the Brian Piccolo Award, a recognition of courage and teamwork.
The next year, Parrish backed up his reputation as a dependable starter and again led the defensive backfield through all 16 games where he totaled seven pass breakups, an interception, and 105 total tackles.
Parrish added another 16 games to his consecutive starting streak during his third season, which was perhaps his best season as a Bear. The safety set a then-career-high with three interceptions on the season, one of which was returned for a touchdown, as well as nine pass breakups, two sacks, and 86 total tackles. The following season, the last under his rookie deal, Parrish matched his previous total of three interceptions alongside four pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, and 67 total tackles.
Tony Parrish career after playing for the Chicago Bears
A free agent during the 2002 offseason, Parrish opted to return to the west coast, where he spent his childhood and college days. The former Bear signed a five-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. With the 9ers, Parrish was immediately inserted into the starting lineup and started every game during his first season. In his first season, Parrish set a new career-high interception total with seven. The following year, Parrish upped his previous total with nine interceptions on the season, which was good enough to lead the NFL in 2003.
Although his interception total dipped to four in 2004, Parrish was able to start every game for the team, unfortunately marking the last time he would do so in his career. In 2005, Parrish suffered a season-ending leg injury during the ninth game of the season, which unfortunately came in the safety's revenge match against the Chicago Bears. The Bears would go on to win the pivotal game, but Parrish's injury was certainly a sick twist of fate during his would-be homecoming to the team that drafted him.
Parrish's injury snapped a 121 consecutive start streak, dating back to his first game as a Bear. Following his injury-shortened season, Parrish remained with the 49ers to start the year but was released halfway through the year, where he subsequently signed with the Dallas Cowboys for the remainder of the season. Following the conclusion of his ninth NFL season, Parrish retired from the league in 2007. He finished his career with 30 interceptions, 70 pass deflections, nine forced fumbles, five sacks, and 641 total tackles.
After retiring from the NFL, Parrish transitioned to the media aspect of the game. In recent years, the former Bear has worked for JungoTV where he serves as Director of Sports & Entertainment as well as the Global Director of VOD. Parrish has also kept up with outreach programs that he was a part of as a player and is still an active member of his community.