Forrest Gregg, Iron Man Lineman for Lombardi’s Packers, Dies at 85 Express News
Forrest Gregg, one of the N.F.L.’s greatest offensive tackles and a key figure on Coach Vince Lombardi’s five Green Bay Packer championship teams of the 1960s, died on Friday in Colorado Springs. He was 85.
His wife, Barbara Gregg, said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, which Gregg announced that he had in 2011. He died in a hospital in Colorado Springs, where he also lived. After retiring as a player he had been the head coach of three N.F.L. teams.
At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Gregg was not especially large for an interior lineman of his era. But in his 15 N.F.L. seasons as a player — all with the Packers except for his final year — he proved a brilliant blocker, opening holes on Lombardi’s No.1 play, the sweep. He played in 188 consecutive games, a record at the time.
Lombardi called him “the finest player I ever coached.”
Gregg personified a pro football warrior, memorably in an image captured by the sports photographer Robert Riger during a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1960. In stark black and white, Gregg fills the frame, his face, chest and helmet caked with mud.
“Forrest Gregg looks like he is cast out of iron,” Lombardi said in recalling that photo for his book “Run to Daylight!” (1963), written with W. C. Heinz.
“It rained three days in a row before the game, and they tried to dry the field out with sand and all it did was make it muddier,” Gregg told the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “The mud had to be at least five inches deep on the field during the game. Of course, we won, so that made it better. The mud didn’t taste so bad.”
Slamming into the left defensive end with a forearm or shoulder, then moving to take out the opponent’s middle linebacker as the sweep play moved downfield, Gregg opened what the Packers called “daylight” for halfback Paul Hornung or fullback Jim Taylor, who ran behind the pulling guards. (Taylor died last October at 83.)
Playing at right tackle — and occasionally at right guard when Jerry Kramer, another Packer mainstay, was injured — Gregg was a first-team All-Pro seven times and selected for the Pro Bowl nine times. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1977, his first year of eligibility, and was named to the N.F.L.’s 75th anniversary team in 1994.
After his playing days, he coached the Cleveland Browns; the Cincinnati Bengals, whom he took to a Super Bowl; and the Packers.
Gregg was adept at moving his man with outstanding technique, buttressed by his study of film. But brute force sometimes prevailed when he teamed with tight end Ron Kramer on their blocks.
“Sometimes I’d come off and hit that defensive end, and then Ron would come down and hit him,” Gregg told Bob Carroll for his book “When the Grass Was Real” (1993). “You could feel that guy’s feet coming off the ground.”
Alvis Forrest Gregg was born on Oct. 18, 1933, in Birthright, Tex., a farming town about 90 miles northeast of Dallas. He was one of 11 children of Boyd and Josephine (Shirley) Gregg, who were farmers. He grew up in Sulphur Springs, Tex., about 10 miles from Birthright.
As a boy, Forrest was enthralled by football broadcasts. “I always knew I wanted to play after hearing the games on the radio,” he told The Chicago Tribune. He played football at Sulphur Springs High School and then at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Gregg was selected by the Packers as their second-round draft pick out of S.M.U. in 1956. After playing one season, he served a year in the Army, then returned to the Packers, who were transformed by Lombardi’s arrival in 1959.
Gregg played on Packer teams that won the 1961, 1962 and 1965 National Football League championships and the first two Super Bowls, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in January 1967 and the Oakland Raiders in January 1968, Lombardi’s last game as Packer coach. Gregg played a final season for the Dallas Cowboys team that won the 1972 Super Bowl, the team’s first, beating the Miami Dolphins.
He coached the Browns from 1975 to 1977, and the Bengals from 1980 to 1983, taking them to the 1982 Super Bowl, a 26-21 loss to the 49ers. He then replaced Bart Starr, the Packer quarterback in their glory years, as Green Bay’s coach. He coached the team from 1984 to 1987 but never had a winning season.
Gregg went back to S.M.U. in 1988 to revive a football program that had been banned for a year under the N.C.A.A.’s so-called death penalty for repeated rules violations. Resuming football in 1989, S.M.U. compiled a not surprising 3-19 record in Gregg’s two years as coach. He was the athletic director there for four years.
He married Barbara Dedek in 1960. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Forrest Jr.; a daughter, Karen Gregg Spehar; and several siblings.
Gregg was a quiet sort, but when angered he was one of the few Packers who stood up to Lombardi’s legendary intimidation.
The former Packer center Bill Curry told of the time Lombardi went into a tirade in 1965 after a late-season loss to a weak Los Angeles Rams team, shouting, “I’m the only one who gives a damn if we win or lose!”
Lombardi was taken aback by what came next.
“There was Forrest Gregg on his feet, bright red, with a player on either side, holding him back by each arm, and he was straining forward,” Curry related in the book “One More July” (1977), written with George Plimpton. “Lombardi looked at him and stopped.”
“‘Scuse the language, Coach,’ ” Gregg fired back, ‘but it makes me sick to hear you say something like that. We lay it on the line for you every Sunday. We live and die the same way you do, and it hurts.’ ”
As Curry recalled it, Gregg “began straining forward again, trying to get up there to punch Lombardi out.”
Gregg’s challenge to Lombardi inspired a few teammates to confront him as well, and soon the other players joined in, insisting that they had a will to win.
As Curry noted, “We did not lose another game that year.”