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Was Forrest Gregg's consecutive-game streak legit?

The essence of Vince Lombardi’s success

Former Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi
Former Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi

Matt from Arlington Heights, IL

Hoping you can help me with a research question. Is there any way to verify, without a shadow of a doubt, that Forrest Gregg played in Week 1 of the 1956 season vs the Lions. I'm aware of his 188-game consecutive streak, which ranges from Week 1 of 1956 (I think) through Week 1 of 1971, until he missed a game. I know he missed the last game of the Packers' season in '56 due to military service and all of the 1957 season. So with that math, that's how to equate the 188 games. What I'm having trouble finding is any mention that he played in the 1956 Week 1 game.

Eric Goska, author of several books on Packers history and a meticulous record-keeper, tells me Gregg played in that Sept. 30, 1956 opener based on game film he viewed. After kicking out of bounds to start the game, the Lions' Jim Martin kicked again and Gregg threw a key block to spring Al Carmichael on a 32-yard return, according to Goska. In fact, Goska said that Gregg, in what was his first NFL game, played on the punt and punt return teams and appeared in all four quarters.

What Goska and I find more curious was why the first 11 games of Gregg's rookie season counted toward his streak and whether he participated in a game on Oct. 17, 1965, at Detroit.

The official play-by-play from that game lists Gregg as one of five Packers who didn't play. Art Daley, who covered the game for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, also wrote in his game story the next day that Gregg did not play. Perhaps even more important, the 1966 National Football League Record Manual credited Gregg with playing in only 13 of 14 games the previous season.

Yet Goska showed me a clipping from a Dick Cullum column that appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune on Oct. 21, 1965. How Cullum would have known this only four days after the game is a mystery to me, but he wrote that Gregg was in for three plays against the Lions.

Cullum didn't cover the game in Detroit and the day before, he covered the Wisconsin-Northwestern game in Evanston, Ill. The Minneapolis Tribune ran an Associated Press story on the Packers-Lions game, and Cullum wrote a column that Monday that was a wrap-up of Big Ten football.

Furthermore, the first time the Packers listed the category, "Most Consecutive Games Played," in the "Individual Records" section of their press book was in 1969, they listed Willie Davis as the record-holder with 134. A year later, Gregg was listed in the 1970 press book as the record-holder with 173 consecutive games played and Davis was listed second with 162, 28 more games than he had been given credit for a year earlier. Gregg was a player-coach that year, while Davis retired.

After appearing in all 14 games in 1970, Gregg's final season with the Packers as a player, he was credited in the 1971 press book with a team record 187 consecutive games played.

Considering Gregg unabashedly took credit for a Vince Lombardi quote about him being his "finest player" that didn't appear in the alleged source, the book "Run to Daylight," and which almost certainly was fabricated, this whole story certainly raises some suspicions.

But here's the explanation I found in newspaper reports late in the 1969 season.

When Gregg read that Davis was credited with the record, he asked the NFL office to check his own streak, claiming the official play-by-play for the Oct. 17, 1965 game, incorrectly listed him as not playing. "I can understand that because I had an injury and wasn't supposed to play," Gregg said at the time. "l couldn't run and watched the entire game from the bench – except for extra points and field goal attempts: Don Chandler kicked four extra points and one field goal and I was in on each of those plays."

The NFL, in turn, announced on Dec. 11, 1969, that Gregg had played in the 1965 game at Detroit and credited him with the record. United Press International reported the decision was based on a "check of the films" of that game. However, the Associated Press also credited input from Lee Remmel, who had replaced Daley as the Press-Gazette's beat writer in 1967 and vouched for Gregg. Goska also said he remembered asking Remmel about that game years ago and being told by him that Gregg's word "was good enough" to convince him that he had played in that 1965 game.

Meanwhile, no explanation was given for why the games that Gregg missed while in the Army – the finale in 1956 and all 12 games in 1957 – didn't interrupt the streak after his first 11 games.

Just to clarify, after Gregg appeared in all 14 games for the Packers in 1970, he also was credited in the 1971 Official National Football League Record Manual as holding the league record with 187 consecutive games played.

As you noted, his NFL record reached 188 when he was listed as a participant in the Dallas Cowboys' 1971 season opener. When the Packers waived Gregg in late August 1971, after he had announced his retirement, Dallas signed him. But Gregg was waived following the opener and wound up on the Cowboys' taxi squad for part of the season before being activated again late in the year.

The bottom line here is that Gregg never would have held the record if the rules of today – if not then, as well – had been followed. He wouldn't have surpassed Jim Ringo's previous record of 182 consecutive games from 1953-67.

The 11 games that Gregg played in during the 1956 season wouldn't count today, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. "In regards to consecutive games played streaks, his streak would end once he missed a game the Packers played, for any reason. So since he did not play at all in 1957, no games played in 1956 would count towards a streak that he started in 1958," Santo Labombarda, a researcher with Elias, wrote in an email.

Thus, Gregg's NFL streak was 177 consecutive games and his Packers' streak 176 – presuming he played on Oct. 17, 1965, as the NFL claimed four years after the fact.

Dennis from Milwaukee

Regarding your post last week about former players who worked Packers games on the radio, Bob Long did some radio analysis, primarily when Lionel Aldridge was sick.

Thanks. You're correct. Aldridge was the radio analyst for Packers games from 1975-78, but he also was a backup analyst for NBC's telecasts of NFL games from 1975-77. Long, who was an offensive end for the Packers from 1964-67, was Aldridge's sub from 1976-77. I believe McGee served as Aldridge's radio backup in 1975. McGee replaced Aldridge as the regular analyst in 1979.

Randy from Tyler, Texas

Not to be trying to blow smoke, but I am extremely happy your career brought you to be our historian. I love this team and appreciate you bringing all the history to us. I watched a documentary on Vince Lombardi and there were two thoughts expressed by a couple of players that just stood out. Marv Fleming said the difference between Lombardi and Don Shula was that Lombardi was a great coach of life, and Shula was a great football coach. The quote that gave me chills came from a guy named Gary Barnes. He played for both Tom Landry and Lombardi, and he said Landry was extremely knowledgeable in football and maybe even more than Lombardi. Both were great men. But if he was comparing the two, he said if Lombardi's team played Landry's team in 10 Super Bowls and the talent was even, Lombardi would win 10 out of 10. Not six out of 10 or nine out of 10, but all of them. He said motivation was the difference. He would tell the team, "Gentlemen, you are the greatest team ever assembled in the history of the NFL." He made his team believe it.

I think you just captured the essence of Lombardi's success. Let me first note that I appreciated your passionate and biting criticisms when I was doing postgame chats for JSonline during my career as a sportswriter just as much as I do your "blowing smoke" – or what I'm interpreting as praise – comment here. Kind or snide, your submissions tend to make for good reading and that's all that matters, right? So thanks for sharing.

As I interviewed Lombardi's former players, assistant coaches and personnel people, while also reading his books and researching his comments to the press when he was coaching, one thing that became obvious over time was his belief that his most important task as a coach was to instill confidence in his team.

At first, I couldn't grasp how that was possible considering how often he would berate players on the practice field and find fault with them in the film room, and how spontaneous and even sometimes personal his attacks seemed to be. But the more players I interviewed, the more I realized there seemed to be a method to his madness, and I wrote about it at some length in our book, "The Greatest Story in Sports."
Especially when the Packers played poorly and still won or when they were preparing for a team that they figured to easily beat, it sounds like Lombardi was unbearable through Wednesday. Then, like a chameleon, maybe starting on Thursday and for sure on Friday, he'd build up his players' confidence to the point where they believed they were world-beaters. It's also my impression that on Saturdays, Lombardi would relax and be a picture of confidence when he was around his players and others.

If what Barnes, who played offensive end for the Packers in 1962, said was just a sound-bite, he maybe didn't get into this part of it. But it seemed to me that during those days when Lombardi was building up his players, he did so without fully pulling back the curtain on the specter of fear.

In other words, he had his players convinced "they were the greatest," as Barnes put it, but that also meant that each of them was expected to win his matchup on game day and if they didn't, he'd find someone who would.

I don't know if Lombardi's methods would work today, and his schemes might not have been as elaborate as more recent coaches like Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick, but I don't believe there's ever been a coach in the NFL who came close to Lombardi as a motivator and whose teams consistently played near flawless football. As I recall, they almost never made a mental or any kind of stupid mistake.

Let's not forget, Lombardi won five NFL titles in seven years and no other coach in the game's history won that many in a decade. Also, he took over a 1-10-1 team and one that hadn't had a winning record in 12 years in Green Bay and finished 7-5 in his first season; then took over a Washington team that had finished 5-9 the previous season and hadn't had a winning record in 14 years and finished 7-5-2.

Along with winning more championships in a decade than any coach in NFL history, Lombardi also has the second-highest, all-time, regular-season winning percentage at .739, behind only John Madden's .759 mark. And while Lombardi took on two of the biggest reclamation projects in NFL history, Madden inherited a team that had gone 25-3 the two previous seasons.

Ric from Santa Maria, CA

I loved your series on Curly Lambeau's Notre Dame Box teams. My father (1916-2017) often told me about many of those names he heard about via radio. It brought back so many memories of dad and those wonderful players I learned to love but never saw play.

It's always interesting to learn how people – especially those now living around the globe – became Packers fans. And more often than not, it seems like fandom has been passed down through generations.

Thanks for sharing your feel-good story. It's good timing during the holiday season.