Football 101: No. 48, Forrest Gregg
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“This is another real football player, this Forrest Gregg.”
— Vince Lombardi, Run to Daylight
In January 1964, at age 30, Forrest Gregg retired from professional football to become an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee. He’d been an All-Pro tackle four times already, he was at the heart of the famed Packer Sweep, he was Vince Lombardi’s favorite player.
But … he had always wanted to be a coach, and even though he felt sure that he still had some good playing years left, he didn’t want to miss his chance with the Volunteers.
“I didn’t want to wait until I was over the hill,” he said. “I know it’s a big paycut but I would have to take it sometime.”
Six weeks later, he quit the job, saying that the Packers made him “too good an offer to pass up.”
In January 1969, at age 35, Forrest Gregg retired from professional football again. He’d added three more Pro Bowls, played in the first two Super Bowls, left his mark as one of the best tackles in NFL history. “I’d like to play the rest of my life,” he said in an emotional press conference. “But unfortunately you can’t do it physically. … I want to retire before I overstay my leave.”
He immediately became a hot coaching commodity. The Steelers offered him a job. That wasn’t interesting to him. Lombardi wanted to hire him for his first season in Washington — “Forrest is a player’s player, a coach’s player, and someday a great coach,” he had said — but he had made a deal with the Packers that he would not hire any of Green Bay’s assistant coaches or retired players for five years.
So Gregg took an assistant coaching job with the Packers. And this time he stayed retired for more than four months. In late May, though, it was reported that “Gregg, who has kept himself in spectacular condition during the off season, may be lured into returning.”
And sure enough, he did return — as a player/coach. “After looking at the films of the 1968 season,” he said. “Coach [Phil] Bengtson and the other coaches told me they thought I was still capable of playing in the NFL. … All the guys were calling me a rookie today.”
In December 1969, Forrest Gregg walked off the field to a standing ovation — here was his last game. A touching photograph of Gregg with his longtime teammate and friend Willie Davis appeared in the Green Bay paper with the headline “Last Hurrah for Willie D., Forrest G.”
This time Gregg didn’t announce his retirement — he didn’t have to announce it. Everyone just knew. In late January, he considered becoming offensive line coach at the University of Florida. He decided to stay with the Packers coaching staff. In June, he put away all doubts by saying that he just wanted to be a coach. “But,” Bengtson said, “I told him facetiously the other day to say in shape.”
But, perhaps it wasn’t so facetious — the Packers kept Gregg on the active roster. Gregg insisted that was just paperwork. “I’m going to do just like the old Texas cowboy,” he said in late August. “I’m just going to ride off into the sunset. … I have no plans to play.”
Two weeks later, the Packer announced that Gregg was on the 40-man roster even though he had not put on a helmet or shoulder pads at any point during training camp. “I view myself strictly as a backup,” he said. Four days after that, he started against the Atlanta Falcons, and according to Bengtson, “held up very well.” He played in all 14 games and started four of them.
And … one more time. it was time to say goodbye. In December of 1970, the Packers ended the season with a 20-0 loss, and Gregg said, “I’m sorry we didn’t win the last game I played in.”
“Forrest Gregg Plays Final Game … Again” was the somewhat exasperated headline in the Green Bay Gazette. He had played in 187 straight games. “That,” he said as a final statement, “is a lot of huddles.”
A bunch of things happened after that. Bengtson resigned as Packers coach. Missouri coach Dan Devine took over and asked Gregg to say on as coach. Gregg declined, deciding instead to go into the sporting goods business in Dallas. Gregg, yet again, did not announce his retirement — there seemed no need — and the Packers discovered that because of that he was still on their roster.
They waived him and that seemed the end of one of the NFL’s greatest careers.
Except … Dallas coach Tom Landry saw Gregg’s name on the waiver list and called him up.
“Hi coach,” Gregg said. “How can I help you?”
“You still got your cleats?” Landry asked.
And Gregg came back one more time. “They’re a great team … I couldn’t resist trying to be a part of it.”
And sure enough, 38-year-old Forrest Gregg was on the sideline in New Orleans for the Cowboys’ 24-3 win over Miami in Super Bowl VI. He did not play, but he did get his third Super Bowl ring.
And THAT was his last game.
“There’s no way,” he said while soaked in champagne, “that I’m going to play anymore.”
Oh yes, Vince Lombardi got it right. Alvis Forrest Gregg was a real football player.