Forrest Gregg, the most decorated, the most durable and the most versatile of Vince Lombardi’s offensive linemen, died Friday in Colorado Springs. He had suffered from Parkinson’s for years.
Gregg was 85. A native of Birthright, Texas, his given name was Alvis Forrest Gregg.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Barbara and the Gregg family,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “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.”
Gregg was a seven-time Associated Press All-Pro, played in nine Pro Bowls, was one of three tackles on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, selected in 1994, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1977.
He also played in what was then a club-record 187 consecutive games from 1958 to 1970 when the Packers won five National Football League championships under Lombardi. And he started at both left and right guard, beside his normal right tackle position, during stretches in 1961, ’64 and ’65.
“This is another real football player,” Lombardi wrote in his book, “Run to Daylight,” which was published in 1963. “Marie (Lombardi’s wife) calls Forrest a picture ballplayer and that’s what he is. He’s a fine downfield blocker, too … When you combine all this in an offensive tackle with his ability and willingness to play guard, you’ve got quite a man.”
Gregg, who stood 6 feet 4 inches and weighed 249 pounds, played his final season with Dallas in 1971 and won a sixth NFL title.
He started at right tackle for the Packers in Super Bowl I and II, and was on the Cowboys’ roster, but did not play when they won Super Bowl VI.
Gregg was drafted the same year as Bart Starr and the two were inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame together in addition to being teammates for 14 seasons.
“He was so talented, he could play two or three positions,” Starr said of Gregg in a 2003 interview. “You probably could have put him at center and he would have adapted to that. He was special.”
Drafted in the second round in 1956 – Starr was drafted in the 17th round – Gregg played in 11 games as a rookie and became the starting right guard at mid-season. He missed the final game that year after being called into the Army and then all of 1957, when he played for Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colo., and earned a spot on the 11-man all-Armed Forces All-Star Team.
Gregg returned to the Packers in 1958 and took over as the starting left tackle before the third game, but later in the season relinquished it to Norm Masters.
Once Lombardi was named coach in 1959, Gregg became a fixture at right tackle except when he was needed in a pinch elsewhere. Down the stretch of the 1961 season, Gregg filled in for an injured Jerry Kramer at right guard and played there in the NFL Championship Game. Gregg also started seven games at right guard in 1964 when Kramer missed time again and most of the 1965 season at left guard when Lombardi was looking to make changes on his offensive line.
“The first two years I played pro ball, which was ’56 and ’58, I never thought I was in good enough condition to play my best the whole game,” Gregg said in a 2009 interview. “After a couple weeks in (Lombardi’s first) training camp, I knew I was going to be ready to play. I just hoped I’d get an opportunity. I could just tell by the mood of the players that we were going to get better as a football team.
“I didn’t know how good we were going to be. I had no way of knowing that we were going to be the team of the sixties. But it was obvious that things were going to be different. You know Henry Jordan made that joke about how (Lombardi) treated us all the same, like dogs. Well, he did. He said several times and it really hit home with me, ‘I’ll paint you all with the same brush. The rules are for everybody, not just one guy. There’s no one guy greater than this football team.’ I liked that type of philosophy and I related to it."
Gregg played his last three seasons with the Packers under Phil Bengtson, Lombardi’s successor, and doubled as a line coach the last two. He also served as offensive captain in 1969.
Even in the twilight of his career, Gregg was a master technician.
“Great feet,” said guard Bill Lueck, who played with Gregg from 1968-70. “He could pass block. He could run block. He had better feet than anybody. He could have been a ballerina.”
Notorious for announcing his retirement and then changing his mind, Gregg did it three times before the 1964, ’69 and ’70 seasons, and then again in ’71 before he joined the Cowboys.
In 1984, Gregg returned to the Packers as head coach and compiled a 25-37-1 record in four seasons before resigning to become coach at Southern Methodist, his alma mater.
Previously, he served as an NFL assistant for three years before becoming head coach of Cleveland, Toronto of the Canadian Football League and Cincinnati. With the Bengals, Gregg led them to Super Bowl XVI following the 1981 season, but they lost to San Francisco, 26-21.