Former Green Bay Packers lineman and first-ballot Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg died Friday at the age of 85, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced.
Gregg, who played in nine Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, had been fighting Parkinson’s disease since 2011.
“The Game lost a giant today,” Hall of Fame President/CEO David Baker said. “Forrest Gregg exemplified greatness during a legendary career that earned him a Bronzed Bust in Canton. He was the type of player who led by example and, in doing so, raised the level of play of all those around him. Forrest symbolized many great traits and virtues that can be learned from this Game to inspire people from all walks of life.”
Gregg was one of the best offensive linemen of his era. He was a seven-time all-pro selection and won two Super Bowl titles with the Packers, in addition to five NFL championships.
If his place in history as one of the greatest tackles ever wasn’t already sealed through those accomplishments, it was when coach Vince Lombardi wrote in an instruction manual that Gregg was “the finest player I ever coached.”
Said Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Barbara and the Gregg family. “He was a legendary player for the team, one of the greatest in our history. The ultimate team player, he raised the level of play of those around him. He also had a great connection with the organization over the years. We enjoyed welcoming him back to Lambeau Field and seeing fans appreciate him around the state.”
Drafted in the second round out of SMU in 1956, Gregg began a streak of a then-NFL record 188 consecutive games, interrupted only in ’57 when he missed the entire season in order to serve in the army. The NFL did not count those as missed games and Gregg became a mainstay on the Packers’ offensive line, playing mostly right tackle but filling in at guard when injuries dictated.
Gregg played on seven championship teams and three Super Bowl winners, finishing his career in Dallas in 1971, where he played for another Hall of Fame coach, Tom Landry.
“I’m a fortunate man,” Gregg once said. “I’ve played for two of the best men who ever coached, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. They are very special people.”
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After taking a year off, Gregg went into coaching and spent a few years as an NFL position coach. He then went on to work as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Toronto Argonauts (a Canadian Football League team) and Cincinnati Bengals.
Within two years of Gregg’s arrival, the Bengals were playing in Super Bowl XVI, making Gregg just the second man in NFL history to play and coach in a Super Bowl.
Two years after that, Gregg was able to return to the franchise with which he started, taking over for his former teammate, Bart Starr, as head coach of the Packers. Gregg was touted as a no-nonsense disciplinarian who would bring Lombardi toughness back to Lambeau Field.
Two 8-8 records in his first two seasons didn’t make life easy for Gregg, however, and neither did two highly publicized sexual assault trials involving receiver James Lofton and cornerback Mossy Cade. So much attention was paid to those cases, the Packers desperately needed to win to distract fans from the mess occurring outside the facility.
The Packers went 4-12 and 5-9-1 in the next two years, before Gregg left the franchise.
“I took over a Packer team that was 8-8 in 1983, and that was as good as they ever were going to be,” Gregg said. “I only wish I’d realized that sooner and done something about it. That’s all I’d have done differently here.”
Over the course of his life, Gregg battled intestinal cancer and melanoma and so when in 2011 he was struck with Parkinson’s disease, a condition he thought probably was brought on by all the concussions he suffered as a player, he did not view it as a death sentence.
Gregg remained active in his later years spent in Colorado Springs. He did not try to hide his condition and he spent the latter years of his life speaking to as many people as possible about the challenges of the disease and ways to combat it.
Gregg grew up on a farm in Birthright, Texas. In an interview in his later years, he said he had very few regrets later in life.
“I was born in a little town in East Texas and grew up out in the country,” Gregg said. “We didn’t even have a football team at my high school, so I had to transfer to Sulphur Springs. I played football, basketball, baseball, and track – did ’em all.”
“In the NFL, I played for a great coach and we had great teams in Green Bay. I have a lot of fond memories. It was a great ride, that’s all I can say. A great ride.”