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Thread: Bengals Mourn Passing of Gregg

  1. #1

    Bengals Mourn Passing of Gregg

    Bengals Mourn Passing of Gregg

    Geoff HobsonSENIOR WRITER

    Forrest Gregg on the sidelines in Super Bowl XVI.

    Forrest Gregg, the iron-fisted disciplinarian who coached the Bengals to their first Super Bowl, has died, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was 85.

    After the 1970s ended with two 4-12 seasons, Bengals founder Paul Brown sought to revive his talented but lackluster team with organization ringed by fire and toughness. His eyes fell on a familiar face that shared a similar background.

    Gregg had been an AFC Central rival until Cleveland fired him as head coach late in the 1977 season. When Brown was leading Cleveland to the NFL’s first dynasty during the 1950s before the Browns fired him, Gregg was the Packers’ second-round draft choice out of Southern Methodist and started on Green Bay’s five championship teams while gutting out 188 straight games. After Paul Brown’s good friend, former Packers head coach and then Washington head coach Vince Lombardi called Gregg a “player’s player, coach’s player,” upon his retirement, Gregg joined Brown in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the game’s great tackles.

    Gregg, at age 47 still Hall-of-Fame physically imposing and fresh from beating cancer the first time, hammered in his foundation during a 6-10 season in 1980 and then watched them soar to an NFL-best 19-6 over the next two seasons that included a Super Bowl berth.

    “The Cincinnati Bengals were a bunch of pearls without a string until Forrest Gregg came along,” Bengals strength coach Kim Wood told a reporter that Super Bowl week.

    With quarterback Ken Anderson winning the 1981 league MVP and passing title, what is considered to be the best Bengals team ever put up a franchise-best 12-4 record and won an iconic AFC championship title in the second coldest game ever before losing to the upstart 49ers in Super Bowl XVI.

    Former guard Dave Lapham, heading into his 34th season as the Bengals radio analyst, has been summing it up best for four decades. He also did that day in Pittsburgh as Gregg’s left guard when the Bengals clinched the 1981 AFC Central with a win over the Steelers

    “It all started with him,” Lapham had said to The Cincinnati Enquirer in the Three Rivers Stadium locker room. “He was what we needed. It’s been said a million times. The disciple. The conditioning. He made us get into shape mentally and physically and made us believe we could win games again. Just unbelievable leadership on his part.”

    Two years later on Christmas Eve Gregg stunned the Bengals when he announced he was taking the job that no son of Lombardi could turn down.

    Packers head coach.


    Forrest Gregg - the man who I emulated as a player and coach. He is the person I chose to speak at my retirement as a @Bengals player. #RIP #MyHero @NFL@NFLLegends
    — Tim Krumrie (@timkrumrie) April 12, 2019

    “No matter how many times he yells at you or kicks you in the pants, you still respect him,” Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said on that day. “I respect him more than any other man or coach I’ve known. He took an average team and made it into a champion.”

    According to Lapham, Gregg nearly had a second run with the Bengals when the tenure of successor Sam Wyche ended abruptly eight Christmas Eves later. But at the last minute Gregg decided to stay as SMU’s athletic director.

    Gregg, who tamed cancer twice and tangled with Parkinson’s for the last eight years of his life, brought that toughness to the Bengals locker room and never was it more apparent than in the Freezer Bowl on Jan. 10, 1982 with Riverfront Stadium encased in minus-9 degrees. After playing in the coldest game ever on the last day of 1967 in the NFL title game in 13-below Green Bay when his Packers offensive line dug in on fourth-and-goal with 13 seconds left to beat Dallas in the “Ice Bowl, Gregg made it 2-0 under zero with a 27-7 win over the Chargers that put the Bengals in the Super Bowl.

    “Forrest said it was going to be like going to the dentist,” Lapham said after the game. “You weren’t going to like it, but you had to do it, so let’s just concentrate on getting through it.”

    Cornerback Louis Breeden recalled Gregg making them practice outdoors in the week leading up to the game. “He didn’t keep us out there very long,” Breeden said. But long enough that Breeden wondered, what the heck are we doing out here?

    The answer went all the way back to 1960 on an icy mud match in Philadelphia, where the Packers’ bid for an NFL title ended on the Eagles 10 in a 17-13 loss. The way Gregg remembered it on the 20th anniversary of the Freezer Bowl, Lombardi never practiced indoors again on the way to five championships.

    “If there’s one thing I learned from Lombardi,” Gregg told, “it was if you’re going to play outdoors, you have to practice outdoors. I think that helped us more than anything because we got more reps, more plays in that week outside.”

    There has been some debate if Lombardi ever called Gregg the best player he ever had. Some give that honor to running back Paul Hornung. But there’s no question Lombardi put him in the upper echelon.

    Hall of Famer and @packers legend Forrest Gregg passed away today at the age of 85.

    More on his legacy:
    — Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) April 12, 2019

    “Watching him perform, watching him execute those assignments, you get that good feeling, and he has all the requisites,” Lombardi once said of Gregg. “He’s big enough and, although he’s not quite as strong as either Bob Skoronski or Norm Masters, at the other tackle, he’s strong enough, and he handles people like Gino Marchetti of Baltimore, Jim Houston of Cleveland and Lamar Lundy of Los Angeles, who are some of the best defensive ends in this league.

    “He’s a fine downfield blocker, too. His speed isn’t great but he’s very quick off that ball and he has that mental sharpness to adjust quickly to sudden situations. He has that knack of getting in front of that runner and, with his excellent sense of timing, of making the key block … When you combine all this in an offensive tackle with his ability and willingness to play guard you’ve got quite a man.”

    Bengaldom couldn’t have agreed more.

    “It’s a sad day here. My memories of Forrest are very special. He not only was the coach of the team, but we were also good friends. As a coach, he was very successful here. We had good people, good players and he got the best out of them. He was demanding. The players didn’t try to cut corners. They went out and did what they had to do, and what we were doing worked. We were somewhat ahead of the curve at the time. It saddens me greatly that he’s gone and I express sympathy to Barbara and his children.”Bengals President Mike Brown

  2. #2
    Forrest: The Tough Teddy Bear That Muscled Bengals Out Of Mediocrity

    Geoff HobsonSENIOR WRITER

    1982 AP
    Forrest Gregg enjoyed many rides as Bengals head coach.

    When the Bengals lost their first Super Bowl coach with Friday’s passing of Forrest Gregg, it unleashed a torrent of memories matching that 59-below wind that ripped through Riverfront Stadium’s Freezer Bowl in the perfect storm that matched the tough team Gregg nurtured in the toughest of elements.

    Kenny Anderson, his Super Bowl quarterback, told a good one. Anderson, who somehow negotiated that frozen tundra of a 1981 AFC title game with no turnovers to put the Bengals in the Super Bowl and validate that year’s NFL MVP trophy, caught himself thinking back to a regular-season Friday practice. The Freezer Bowl? Nothing was tougher than a Forrest Gregg Friday practice.

    Short yardage. Goal line. It was practically live and if the tempo wasn’t right, Gregg wasn’t happy. Those Fridays of a home game they practiced at Riverfront, but when they got there this Friday Gregg saw tight ends Dan Ross and M.L. Harris in sweats. They informed him the trainers had told them not to practice.

    But to run short yardage and goal line, you need tight ends. Even if their helmets and pads are a few miles away at Spinney Field.

    “He touched both on the shoulders. We waited for them to go get their pads and helmets,” Anderson said. “When you got the touch on the shoulder, you were well.”

    Isn’t that exactly what Gregg did to this franchise at the dawn of the ‘80s? After his team finished the ‘70s with two out-of-shape 4-12 seasons (“As bad as any Bengals teams I was on”-Anderson), Bengals founder Paul Brown turned to Gregg, a Vince Lombardi disciple, to toughen them up and he delivered. During 1981-82 they won the franchise’s first play-off game and appeared in its first Super Bowl while Gregg’s touch on the shoulder made them an NFL-best 19-6. Bengals president Mike Brown has always called that ’81 team the best in club history and he did so again Friday.

    “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” said Anthony Munoz, Gregg’s 20-years-later-book-end Hall of Fame tackle on that team that was his first draft pick as head coach. “I wasn’t here, but I saw the film. Out of shape. Not physical. That team was night and day … When I got here you would have thought it was the Cincinnati Reds and that’s it. You would never know it’s a Bengals town until after that ’81 season. It was Forrest Gregg and his coaching staff that came in and transformed the makeup of this team. My rookie year (6-10) we could have easily been 9-7 or 10-6.”

    So the tough stories reverberated Friday. Anderson recalling 70-80 up-downs in a training camp practice. Munoz remembering Gregg, then 46, working him out at USC for something like two hours after he just got the job. Dave Lapham, his left guard then and now the guardian of Bengaldom as the team’s radio analyst for 34 years, reminiscing how Gregg had players intimidated by his sheer will. How the previous two years had been “a farce, a joke,” and how Gregg prevented the players from rebelling with simply his credentials.

    “He played for Lombardi,” Lapham said. “So he wasn’t asking us to do anything he didn’t do. That was a big key for guys to buy in.”

    How about Gregg shaking his fist at Browns owner Art Modell's box after a Bengals victory? Paul Brown wasn't the only head coach Modell fired.

    But that tough guy wasn’t Mike Brown’s great friend.

    “The Forrest I knew was not the Forrest the players knew,” Brown said. “The players saw a formidable figure and they weren’t looking to test him. With me he was a teddy bear away from football. He was really a wonderful person. He had lot of good stories. It seems like it was just yesterday.”

    Forrest Gregg greets the crowd at Fountain Square the day after the Super Bowl.

    Brown, two years younger than Gregg, became close with the head coach. Every Friday night they and their wives dined out. They mixed up the restaurants, but more often than not they would end up in a place no longer open on the Terrace Park-Milford line by the Miami River. The food was good, the jazz band even better. There were also days they’d watch their kids play touch football or just get together at each other’s homes.

    Tough guy? Teddy bear?

    One thing Gregg was for sure, Lapham says, he was a great judge of coaches and knew how to use them. Mike Brown talks about how the Bengals were ahead of the coaching curve and that’s because Gregg picked guys like offensive guru Lindy Infante tinkering with what would become a devastating option route scheme and defensive coordinator Hank Bullough loading up with new age blitzes.

    “Look at that staff,” Lapham said. “A lot of great coaches.”

    There was a young college offensive line coach that would turn the industry on its ear. Jim McNally. There was a 14-year NFL cornerback just beginning his coaching career who would soon change the game with the zone blitz. Dick LeBeau. There was a bright former Paul Brown tight end that Gregg brought home who later in the decade would help the Bengals offense spring to even greater heights. Bruce Coslet.

    “Even though people saw him as an old school football guy, look at those guys he hired,” Lapham said. He hired McNally. He heard about this guy in college and McNally showed him his techniques. Forrest said, I’ve got a diamond in the rough here. He never interfered. Here’s a Hall of Fame lineman who could have said, ‘No, Jimmy.’ But he believed in him and let him do his job.

    “Lindy was kind of cutting edge. We (the line) were doing slide protection. Sliding to the weak side of the formation. It took people a while to catch up. He had Kenny moving out the pocket. He was our second-leading rusher. Those things were a big part of our success that year. Forrest was like, I’m going to let those guys coach and do their jobs,’ and I give him credit for a lot of things that way.”

    Like Lapham said, Gregg wasn’t always old school. In the Freezer Bowl he let guys wear the gloves they wore driving to the game and M.L. Harris took them out of his pocket to catch a touchdown. But Gregg was old school the week before, when he took them outside to practice in not as bad but still hellacious weather.

    Lacy Atkins
    Gregg with Anderson the week of the Super Bowl.

    “We did more on Saturdays than most teams do today on Fridays,” Anderson said. “Full speed. One-on-one. Seven-on-seven. Live two-minute.”

    The day before the Freezer Bowl?

    “Yeah,” Anderson said. “It never changed.”

    Friday’s stories wouldn’t stop, just like the ’81 Bengals’ November to Remember of 5-0. Munoz was stunned that a new NFL head coach had come to work him out himself a few weeks before that ’80 draft. You best believe if Gregg was going to make a tackle his first Bengals’ draft pick, he would certainly want to get his hands on him.

    “Late in the workout he told me just to react,” Munoz said. “And he gave me a couple of moves. I planted both of my hands in his chest and punched him and the first thing that hit was the back of his head on the ground.”

    The thought flashed through Munoz’ mind. My God, I just killed a guy. He apologized. From down below Gregg allowed a slight chuckle and offered in his Texas drawl, “That’s alright. No problem.”

    Forrest Gregg’s Bengals were on their way.

    “He had that reputation as a tough guy and he sure lived up to that,” Anderson said. “He was what we needed at that moment in time.”

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Not sure I’d ever really have cared about the Bengals if not for Gregg or Wyche. It helps me understand all the people who grew up after that era who don’t care at all about the Bengals. They were badasses when I was a kid. They were bozos in my twenties.


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