Truly, Forrest Gregg was the ultimate benchmark for the offensive tackle position.
When Gregg joined forces with legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi in 1959, they became one of the most dominant teams of the 1960s.
Gregg, a nine-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, was one of the reasons the Packers won a combined three NFL Championships and two Super Bowl titles from 1961 to 1967.
Gregg even had to switch to the guard position in 1961 and 1965 to help offset injuries on the Packers’ offensive line. Green Bay won the NFL Championship on both occasions.
Gregg eventually took his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1977.
This is Forrest Gregg’s remarkable football journey.
Alvis Forrest Gregg was born to parents David and Due in Birthright, TX on October 18, 1933.
Forrest was part of a large family. He had four brothers and six sisters.
When his grandparents passed away, his father inherited the family farm. David Gregg and his brother Roland eventually managed the property.
One of young Forrest’s jobs was to pick cotton on the family farm during the Great Depression. Times were tough for everybody.
Despite the hard economic times, Forrest and his family always had something to eat because they lived on a farm.
Due Gregg was more of a disciplinarian than her husband, David. The patriarch was more of a shy and reserved type who taught his children how to do farm work.
Forrest Gregg grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. Whenever a soldier returned to Texas, he and his friends would sit on a dirt road and listen to the soldier’s war stories.
During Gregg’s formative years in the Lone Star State, he frequently ate at a restaurant owned by Wade Scott.
Scott realized Gregg did not come from a well-off family, so eventually, he refused the youngster’s attempts to pay for his food.
Forrest also loved listening to the radio in a store owned by Jess Orr. The boy listened to various war stories and sporting events in that store.
10 miles north of Sulphur Springs on FM 71 lies the community of Birthright, Texas, also known as Lone Star. About a mile west of Birthright is the community of New Birthright. However, there is no New Lone Star. NFL Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg was born in Birthright in 1933. pic.twitter.com/W2dFNnQTA4
— Traces of Texas (@TracesofTexas) June 20, 2020
Forrest remembered listening to the Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn world heavyweight championship as a youngster growing up in Texas.
He also listened to many baseball games on the radio. He eventually became a fan of Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers.
Forrest’s uncle, Tex Shirley, was a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns. He listened to the 1944 World Series with his uncle on the mound at Jess Orr’s store.
According to Gregg’s 2010 autobiography, Winning in the Trenches: A Lifetime of Football, he first played football when he was in ninth grade.
Gregg was a country boy who loved football. Since his school at Miller Grove did not have a football team, he transferred to Sulphur Springs High School, per Tom Silverstein of PackersNews.com.
Forrest wanted to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. The younger David Gregg had also transferred to Sulphur Springs and earned a scholarship from the Houston Cougars.
When Forrest attended Sulphur Springs, football coach Clinton White asked him to try out for football when they ran into each other in the school hallway.
Forrest told him he’d just had rheumatic fever, so he wasn’t so sure. Coach White called Forrest’s doctor and expressed his desire to have him suit up for the football team.
Dr. Stevens eventually allowed Forrest to play football toward the end of his freshman season.
Forrest Gregg eventually played football, baseball, basketball, and track for the Sulphur Springs Wildcats.
SMU Mustangs freshman football coach Herman “Sleepy” Morgan recruited Gregg during his senior season in 1951.
Morgan was the same coach who told Gregg never to forget his roots and the people who helped him along the way.
Forrest Gregg remained in-state and became a pillar of strength on the SMU Mustangs’ offensive and defensive lines in the early-to-mid 1950s.
College Days with the SMU Mustangs
Forrest Gregg attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX from 1952 to 1955.
Gregg suited up for SMU Mustangs’ head football coaches H.N. Russell and Chalmer Woodward.
Gregg played on both sides of the ball as an offensive and defensive tackle for SMU. He became an All-Southwest Conference selection in his junior and senior seasons in 1954 and 1955.
O-Lineman Of The Day
— Coach Nate Leonard, M.Ed. (@CoachLeonardTX) August 29, 2019
Despite Gregg’s emergence on both the offensive and defensive lines, the Mustangs were a mediocre squad that averaged just five wins per season during his four-year stint.
Forrest Gregg went on to become one of the greatest offensive linemen in Green Bay Packers franchise history.
With Gregg playing right tackle and guard when the need called for it, he helped Vince Lombardi’s Packers become one of the most dominant teams of the 1960s.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers made Forrest Gregg the 20th overall selection of the 1956 NFL Draft.
Gregg mentioned in his 2010 autobiography that he initially wanted the Los Angeles Rams to draft him.
When the Packers, who were mired in mediocrity at the time, took him off the draft board, he still felt fortunate.
Had he wound up in the Canadian Football League or some other league, his pro football career would have turned out much differently.
Gregg joined a Packers’ nucleus that included Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Dan Curry, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, Bill Forester, Max McGee, and Jim Taylor.
Those players were close in age and became instrumental in Green Bay’s rise from obscurity in the 1960s.
The 6’4″, 249-lb. Gregg was small for an offensive tackle back in the day. However, he made up for that by learning how to gain an advantage over bigger edge rushers.
Gregg also watched film of opposing defensive linemen for hours on end. Before long, he knew the tricks of every pass rusher in the National Football League, per ProFootballHOF.com.
“Deacon Jones, Gino Marchetti, and Carl Eller,” Gregg said (via PackersNews.com). “I’d be working out in the offseason preparing for them.”
"He was the best drive blocker I've ever seen." —Deacon Jones
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) April 12, 2019
Unfortunately, the Packers hardly resembled the championship team they would become in the 1960s.
Green Bay averaged barely three wins per season under head coaches Lisle Blackburn and Ray McLean from 1956 to 1958.
Since winning their sixth NFL Championship in 1944, the Packers had missed the postseason fourteen straight times.
A Future Legend Joins the Team
The Packers’ fortunes changed dramatically when former New York Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi became their head coach in 1959.
Gregg recalled that Lombardi’s smile made a profound first impression of the demanding tactician that year.
Gregg gave credit to Lombardi for righting the Packers’ sinking ship many years later.
“We had the talent before he arrived,” Gregg wrote in his 2010 autobiography. “But it was Vince Lombardi who made us champions.”
Although Lombardi was a first-rate football coach and strategist, Gregg felt his greatest trait was his ability to motivate his players.
Forrest played the best football of his life when Lombardi took over the reins as the 1950s wound down. Gregg earned six consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 1959 to 1964.
Gregg also became a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 1959 and 1961. He went on to become a seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection in his illustrious 15-year pro football career.
Interestingly enough, Gregg earned his third Pro Bowl selection and second Second-Team All-Pro berth when he played guard for the first time in 1961.
It didn’t take long for Lombardi to make his mark on Packers football in the 1960s.
With Lombardi calling the shots, Green Bay made three consecutive NFL Championship appearances from 1960 to 1962.
After losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL Championship Game, the Packers won back-to-back titles against Lombardi’s former team, the New York Giants, in 1961 and 1962.
When the Packers won their first NFL title during the Vince Lombardi era, they did not party the night away after the final whistle.
Gregg mentioned in his 2010 book that he and his teammates just congratulated each other and went their separate ways at the end of the game.
Forrest and his wife, Barbara, just had dinner at their home that evening. The couple flew to Dallas, TX the following morning.
50 Years Ago Today: Photographer Neil Leifer takes the most iconic Super Bowl photo. Forrest Gregg & Jerry Kramer hoisting up Packers coach Vince Lombardi after winning Super Bowl II. pic.twitter.com/m3lkxhYscP
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 14, 2018
Forrest Gregg’s remarkable pro football playing career reached a pivotal crossroads after his tenth season in the National Football League in 1964.
When Marie Lombardi, Vince’s widow, presented Forrest to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, she recalled a story about the NCAA’s Tennessee Volunteers offering him an assistant football coaching position some thirteen years earlier.
According to The New York Times, Gregg cited fatigue from traveling from city to city as the reason he retired from the NFL at the relatively young age of 30.
That decision did not sit well with Lombardi, who thought Gregg retired way too soon.
A Tough Decision
When Gregg reported for his first day on the job as a Volunteers assistant coach, he received an air credit and car rental card. Lombardi was obviously trying to send a message.
Gregg, who badly wanted to become a football coach, agonized over the decision. He was starting to have second thoughts about the Volunteers’ offer.
Forrest Gregg eventually gave in to Vince Lombardi’s pleas to return to the National Football League. The former eventually put his football coaching career on hold for eight more years.
“The real case was Mr. Lombardi was very persuasive,” Gregg told The New York Times when he was already the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1975. “He felt like I was too young to retire as a player, and he convinced me.”
One day, a Packers assistant coach called Vince Lombardi while he was vacationing in Puerto Rico with his wife. The assistant told Lombardi that Gregg was returning for his seventh NFL season.
Lombardi was ecstatic, to say the least.
“Vince yelled so loud through the phone, the room shook, the building shook, and even the ground shook. He wanted Forrest back so bad,” Marie Lombardi said when she presented Gregg to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Back to the Pack
When Forrest Gregg came out of his brief retirement, the Green Bay Packers’ dominance in the 1960s continued.
Forrest still had plenty of gas left in his tank when he re-signed with the Packers. He went on to earn three more Pro Bowl selections from 1966 to 1968 to increase his carer total to nine.
The injury bug bit the Packers’ offensive line hard again in 1965. Lombardi assigned Gregg to the right guard position once again.
Gregg delivered the goods for Green Bay. Although he was a natural right tackle, Gregg defied the odds and earned another First-Team All-Pro selection playing right guard in 1965.
With Gregg at right guard, the Packers won the final NFL Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns in 1965, 23-12.
Green Bay then won two of the first Super Bowl titles in pro football history.
They beat the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I in blowout fashion, 35-10.
The Packers then beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II the following year, 33-14.
With Forrest Gregg wreaking havoc on the offensive line, Green Bay had won a combined five titles since 1960.
Gregg credited the Packers’ vaunted Packer Sweep or Lombardi Sweep play during the 1960s.
The offensive scheme starts with the quarterback handing the football off to the running back. The latter, in turn, runs parallel to the line of scrimmage before bursting through a hole in the offensive line.
“The sweep was the key to the success of the Green Bay Packers,” Gregg once quipped (via PackersNews.com). “Everything we did came off that play… Every opponent knew we were going to run it, but they just couldn’t stop it.”
Time to Retire
Gregg was one of the most durable offensive linemen of his era. He was an ironman who suited up in 188 straight games for the Packers and Cowboys.
Had Gregg not enlisted in the Army and served his country in 1957, that streak would have easily surpassed 200 games.
Forrest Gregg joined Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys before the 1971 NFL season.
Gregg helped the Cowboys win eleven games that year. He became part of Dallas’s first Super Bowl-winning team after the Cowboys routed the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24-3.
Forrest Gregg ended his iconic pro football career as a champion yet again.
According to NFL.com, Gregg, Tom Brady, Herb Adderley, and Fuzzy Thurston are the only players in league history to have won six titles during their careers.
Gregg retired from pro football following the 1971 NFL season.
"The finest player I ever coached." – Vince Lombardi on Forrest Gregg pic.twitter.com/DckN0BLf5a
— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2019
Gregg, one of the best offensive linemen of his generation, earned high praise from his Packers head coach, Vince Lombardi.
“Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached,” Lombardi said in his memoir, Run to Daylight (via ProFootballHOF.com).
As for Gregg, he credited much of his success on the gridiron to sheer hard work.
“Yes, I did have some natural athletic ability, but nothing came to me without a lot of hard work,” Gregg wrote in his 2010 autobiography.
Post-Football Life and Death
Forrest Gregg became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1977.
Legendary Packers head coach Vince Lombardi’s widow, Marie, was Gregg’s presenter.
Marie considered Gregg one of the greatest all-around players of his generation.
She cited his willingness to make the switch from right tackle to guard when he was already firmly entrenched as an All-Pro in his former position.
Gregg not only played guard for the great Vince Lombardi, but he also became an All-Pro.
Part of Gregg’s enshrinement speech reads:
“This, to me, is an elite bunch of people; the ones who are behind me right here: Frank Gifford, Bart Starr, Bill Willis, and Gale Sayers. It means so much to me to go in with people of this caliber.”
Forrest Gregg, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, SMU Football alum and the first head coach to take the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, has passed. A truly great player and coach. pic.twitter.com/HHm5Cb8c57
— C. Austin Cox (@CAustinCox) April 12, 2019
Forrest Gregg, who almost became a head football coach in the collegiate ranks in 1963, embarked on a 23-year pro football coaching career after he retired from playing in the NFL in 1971.
Gregg coached the San Diego Chargers’ offensive line from 1972 until 1973. He served the Cleveland Browns in the same capacity in 1974.
The Browns fired head coach Nick Skorich following a 4-10 season in 1974. Gregg replaced him and promptly earned his first head coaching job in the National Football League.
Gregg’s NFL head coaching career got off to a rocky start. The Browns continued to struggle when he took over in 1975. Cleveland mustered just three victories and missed the postseason for the third straight year.
Gregg righted the ship the following season. He led the Browns to a 9-5 win-loss record and promptly won The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award in 1976.
Regrettably, Cleveland regressed to a 6-8 win-loss record one season later. They never tasted postseason football with Forrest Gregg as their head coach from 1975 to 1977.
Gregg went on a one-year hiatus after he left the Browns during the 1977 NFL season.
Gregg coached the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Toronto Argonauts in 1979. The Argonauts finished fourth in the CFL East division with a 5-11 win-loss record in Gregg’s lone season at the helm.
The Cincinnati Bengals hired Gregg as their head coach prior to the 1980 NFL season.
Gregg, one of the greatest offensive linemen of his era, personally recruited USC Trojans offensive tackle Anthony Munoz to Cincinnati in 1980.
Gregg even told Bengals owner Paul Brown that Munoz “will be one of the best offensive tackles ever to play the game.”
Gregg’s words were prophetic. Munoz spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bengals from 1980 to 1992. He eventually entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
Returning to Green Bay
Gregg’s most successful season was in 1981 when he led the Bengals to a 12-4 win-loss record and an appearance in Super Bowl XVI.
Unfortunately, Gregg and Co. lost to Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers, 26-21.
Nevertheless, Gregg told Bleacher Report’s Matt Stein in the fall of 2013 that leading the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI was the highlight of his coaching career.
Gregg had an overall 32-25 win-loss record in four seasons in Cincinnati. He led the Bengals to two division titles in 1981 and 1982.
After the Packers dismissed head coach Bart Starr at the end of the 1983 NFL campaign, Bengals management allowed Gregg to break free from his contract and take over in Green Bay.
Gregg inherited his disciplinarian, no-nonsense coaching style from his former Packers head coach, Vince Lombardi.
Gregg never held back in reprimanding his players in practice. According to Silverstein, Gregg was once so mad he moved training camp to Oconomowoc, WI after the Redskins manhandled the Packers 33-0 in a scrimmage game.
Gregg’s four-year tenure as Packers head coach was mired in controversy.
Gregg struggled through two consecutive 8-8 seasons in 1984 and 1985. His Packers coaching stint also coincided with the highly-publicized sexual assault trials of Green Bay wideout James Lofton and defensive back Mossy Cade.
In the mid-1980s, Gregg also butted heads with Mike Ditka, the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
Ditka once ran a goal-line touchdown play through nose tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry in a game against Gregg’s Packers in the fall of 1985.
It was a play that made Gregg seethe, to say the least.
Shaking Things Up
Gregg made wholesale changes to the Packers’ lineup prior to the 1986 NFL season.
By the time the regular season kicked off, quarterback Lynn Dickey, defensive end Mike Butler, tight end Paul Coffman, linebackers Mike Douglass and George Cumby, and offensive lineman Greg Koch were all gone.
Lastly, Gregg also fired offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker.
The result was predictable. Green Bay went 0-6 to start the 1986 NFL campaign. They went 4-6 the rest of the way to finish with a dismal 4-12 win-loss record.
It was the Packers’ worst showing since the 1977 NFL season when they won four games.
Green Bay wasn’t much better in 1987. The Packers finished with an abysmal 5-9-1 record.
It turned out to be Gregg’s final season as Packers head coach. He finished with an overall 25-37-1 record in four years at the helm in Green Bay.
Gregg left the Packers after the 1987 NFL season to become the new head football coach for the SMU Mustangs.
Unfortunately, Gregg’s abrupt departure left seven of his assistants on the unemployment line because their contracts expired before the 1988 NFL campaign.
It seemed everything went wrong for Gregg and the Packers in the mid-1980s.
“It was constant. Suspensions, arrests, trials, strikes… we made the headlines an awful lot but not for the right reasons,” Gregg said (via PackersNews.com).
Back to School
He was looking forward to a fresh start coaching his alma mater’s football team in his native Texas.
Gregg arrived at a tumultuous time in SMU football history. The NCAA recently slapped the school’s football program with the infamous “death penalty.”
The sanction called for the cancellation of SMU’s entire 1987 NCAA season after investigators discovered that the school had paid some of its football players during the Ron Meyer era.
Gregg went 3-19 in his two seasons as Mustangs’ head football coach from 1989 to 1990.
Although Forrest Gregg did not win many football games as SMU’s head football coach, he imparted valuable life lessons to his players.
I can’t stop the flow of tears at hearing of my coach @SMU_Football Forrest Gregg. I was #oldschool in so many ways and that’s why I signed with @SMU Thank you coach for helping to make me who I am today. #RIP #PonyUp pic.twitter.com/CGPcc1TgP8
— Greg Hill (@ThrillHill82) April 12, 2019
Greg Gardner, one of his former SMU Mustangs players, mentioned in Gregg’s eulogy that the NFL great gave him and his teammates a realistic perspective of life after football.
“Coach Gregg knew that life is tough, and you cannot quit,” Gardner said (via The Dallas Morning News). “He knew that the NFL pretty much wanted none of us, so we’d better get jobs—and jobs are tough.”
According to Gardner, Gregg modeled the ideal husband when he showed affection to his wife, Barbara, at practice and games.
The couple also regularly kept Gardner in the loop regarding their two kids, Karen and Forrest Jr.
Gregg wanted his players to know both married life and parenthood were hard. Gardner recognized that when he delivered his eulogy for Gregg in 2019.
Final Working Years
After Gregg stepped down as SMU’s coach in 1990, he retained his position as athletic director until 1994.
Gregg enjoyed his role as SMU’s athletic director. He worked alone most of the time in that capacity.
Whenever he had a light schedule, he struck up conversations with the football and basketball coaches in their offices, per PackersNews.com.
Gregg stepped down as SMU’s athletic director in 1994 to become the head coach of the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Shreveport (LA) Pirates.
Gregg won just 13 of 52 games in two seasons as the Pirates’ head coach from 1994 to 1995. It was his final football coaching job.
After a 10-year hiatus working for a professional football team, 71-year-old Forrest Gregg served as the CFL’s Ottawa Renegades’ executive vice president of football operations from 2005 to 2006.
Gregg had several health issues including melanoma in 1976 and colon cancer in 2001, per ESPN.
It did not get any better as the years went by. Gregg discovered he had Parkinson’s disease in 2011. He believed it was the result of various concussions he had sustained during his pro football career.
Forrest Gregg remained upbeat despite the diagnosis. He never hid the fact he had Parkinson’s disease. He even spoke publicly about living a life afflicted with Parkinson’s in the twilight of his life.
Sadly, Forrest Gregg passed away due to complications from Parkinson’s disease in Colorado Springs, CO on April 12, 2019. He was 85 years old.
Gregg left behind his wife Barbara, daughter Karen, and son Forrest Jr. At the time of Forrest Sr’s death, he and Barbara had been married for 59 years.
Karen Gregg-Spehar told The Associated Press (via ESPN) that her family donated her father’s brain to Boston University’s CTE Center for further examination in the spring of 2019.
Forrest Gregg is also a member of the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame, the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.