Through hard work and determination, Rosey Grier became a very good defensive tackle in the NFL.
During his decade as a player, Grier received numerous accolades and won an NFL championship.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) February 1, 2018
He also became a linchpin of an LA Rams defensive line that is still considered one of the best in league history.
After retiring from football, Grier became a fixture in the television industry.
He also put his former defensive tactics to good use as muscle for a number of political figures.
Unfortunately, Grier couldn’t stop one of the most highly publicized assassinations in the turbulent 60s.
This is the story of the career and fascinating life of Rosey Grier.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier was born on July 14, 1932, in Cuthbert, Georgia.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) July 14, 2022
As hard as it is to believe now, there was a point in time when sports were not in Grier’s future.
He was one of 12 children who worked on their father’s farm.
Grier’s dad grew sugar cane and peanuts and, by the age of six, Grier was working right along with his siblings.
With so much work to be done, there was little time left for academics.
Grier’s school was more than 10 miles away, and he had to walk there and back just to attend.
Because of the distance, and the dedication needed to tend his father’s crops, Grier could only go to school three days each week.
The life of the Grier family changed dramatically when World War II began, however.
To find a more steady job and better educational opportunities, Grier’s parents uprooted the family and moved to Roselle, New Jersey when he was still in elementary school.
Now relocated to a city residence, Grier’s school was much closer, and he was able to attend on a consistent basis.
He began playing sports and found that he excelled in football and track and field events.
Eventually, Grier played sports at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle and became a star athlete.
He was a defensive lineman and blocking back for Clark High. He overpowered opponents due to his 6’5”, 240-pound frame.
“When I played in high school,” Grier told LIFE magazine years later, “I patterned my movements on the little guys. They were so fast, and I learned to watch how they moved, how they worked their feet. So after a while, the instant the ball moved at the line of scrimmage, I would just explode off the line. My quickness came from watching little guys. I penetrated so quickly because I beat everyone off the line, always.”
Grier became an All-American and added Track and Field All-American status as well due to his throwing distances in the shot put, discus, and javelin events.
During the spring of his senior year, area colleges began courting Grier to come and play for their programs.
Penn State University offered Grier a track scholarship, and he accepted.
Nittany Lion Trailblazer
It didn’t take long for Grier to make a name for himself as a collegian.
On the practice field one day, he was lined up at defensive tackle and had a rough exchange with a teammate.
That moment made Grier realize that no matter what coaches and teammates threw at him, he could handle it.
“They tried to test me. A young man, a center, hit me in the chin and I didn’t like that very much,” Grier said. “So they couldn’t run on my side no more because I wouldn’t let them. Before the year was over, I was playing both ways.”
Grier continued to grow and became a mountain of a man who could control the line of scrimmage on every play.
Rosey Grier | Penn State Defensive Tackle 1951-1955 pic.twitter.com/hRo54Jc5OJ
— Random Penn State Athletes (@PennRandom) April 22, 2022
As he was excelling on the gridiron, Grier and a few of his teammates had to work to overcome the misplaced hatred of some of their opponents.
Penn State had only recently desegregated its football team, and Grier was one of four black players on the team.
Games in the South were dicey, and Grier and his friends were called every name in the book.
The 1954 team with Grier, future NFL All-Pro Lenny Moore, end Jesse Arnelle, and back Charlie Blockson, traveled to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
It would mark the first time that black athletes played against TCU.
Grier Is a Two-Sport Star
Grier’s time at Penn State helped the team to 20 victories, seven losses, and one tie between 1952 and 1954.
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) July 14, 2022
During track season, Grier continued to do well in the throwing events, receiving excellent marks in the shot, javelin, and discus.
While he was in college, Grier also developed a persona that sought the best in people.
He was a beast on the field, but he was a gentle giant away from sports, engaging students of all races, religions, and backgrounds.
Grier enjoyed music and could be found singing or playing instruments when he wasn’t preparing for a game or event.
“He was a big human being,” Penn State teammate Lenny Moore said, “but just as nice and truthful as you could be.”
Without a doubt, the university atmosphere had a profound effect on Grier.
As he finished college, Grier realized there was much more to life than sports.
He put a plan in place to pursue all his passions, not just athletics, for the rest of his life.
The Giants Draft Grier and Win a Championship
In 1950, the New York Giants lost in a Conference playoff game against the Cleveland Browns.
For the next four years, the team went without a postseason appearance.
During the third round of the 1955 NFL Draft, the Giants selected Grier 31st overall.
He started right away and contributed two fumble recoveries (the NFL did not keep track of tackles or sacks at the time).
Then, in 1956, after several years of subpar records, New York went 8-3-1, returned to the postseason, and handily defeated the Chicago Bears 47-7 in the NFL Championship game.
The last living member of the 1956 Champion Giants – Rosey Grier. pic.twitter.com/1xRXLBZRUB
— GrandOLTeam (@JBLuvsCeltic) April 15, 2022
Grier had three fumble recoveries and once again started every game.
His play that year was honored by his peers when he was voted an All-Pro and also selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Playing with Legends
Entering his third year in the league, Grier couldn’t believe his good fortune.
He was already an NFL champion, a Pro Bowler, and was recognized as a stellar defensive lineman.
New York boasted legends such as halfback Frank Gifford, quarterback Charlie Conerly, and defenders Sam Huff and Andy Robustelli.
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) January 30, 2022
Grier meshed well with the vets and the young guys and was treated with respect.
“It was an incredible thing,” Grier said, “coming from the South, playing college ball at Penn State, to end up in New York playing for a franchise with a history like the Giants. I enjoyed it so much, and became good friends with guys like Charlie Conerly, [halfback and receiver] Kyle Rote … oh, so many of them. The team felt like a family then. It really did.”
That family continued to play well and found themselves back in the playoffs in 1958 and 1959.
In ‘58, New York won nine games, beat Cleveland in the Conference playoff, and then lost in overtime in the NFL Championship game to the Baltimore Colts 23-17.
The following year, the Giants won 10 games and lost for the second year in a row to the Colts in the title game.
Grier was selected as an All-Pro after both seasons.
Despite Roster, Giants Continue to Fall Short
New York struggled during the 1960 season and only won six games.
Grier, on the other hand, scored his first points as a pro by netting a safety during the year.
Recently, a team of pro football researchers has been looking through old NFL game films to award sacks to players before 1982.
That was the year the league began keeping track of player sacks.
According to the researchers, Grier had 3.5 sacks in 1960.
— JVAN (@VanderlansJim) July 13, 2021
More than likely, that helped contribute to his second Pro Bowl nomination after the season.
In 1961, the Giants pulled out of their nose dive and won 10 games but lost to Green Bay in the NFL Championship game.
The same thing happened the next year after New York won 12 games (the most wins by the franchise since 1930) and lost to the Packers again in the title game.
Grier has been given credit for 12 sacks combined for the 1961 and 1962 seasons.
Trade to LA
Although New York had failed to win a championship four out of the previous five years, the organization was ready to try again in 1963.
Surprisingly, they would be proceeding without Grier.
In the summer of 1963, the Giants and Los Angeles Rams made a trade that sent Grier to LA in exchange for a future pick and Jon LoVetere.
According to the Giants coaches, Grier was getting older and the staff wanted some younger players.
“At 31, Grier is about four years older than LoVetere,” explained New York’s Head Coach Allie Sherman.
As much as he would miss his New York teammates, Grier landed in a perfect position with the Rams.
LA’s defensive line was already loaded with Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and Deacon Jones.
LA Rams famed ‘Fearsome Foursome’: Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier, Lamar Lundy pic.twitter.com/ipdRn6bbfK
— Sports Days Past (@SportsDaysPast) March 15, 2020
Grier’s addition to this trio meant that the Rams instantly had one of the best defensive lines in all of football.
Unfortunately, LA’s offense wasn’t much to write home about. The team only mustered 10 wins total between the 1963 and 1964 seasons.
Grier thrived, however, playing on the “Fearsome Foursome” line as they were called.
During the same two-year period, he had 12.5 total sacks.
Grier Unexpectedly Retires
In 1965, Grier had only 1.5 sacks.
That total jumped considerably in 1966 when he collected seven sacks along with the second safety of his career.
Meanwhile, the Rams won four games in ‘65 and then had eight wins under new head coach George Allen in 1966.
That was the most wins the franchise had dating back to 1958.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) May 6, 2017
During the 1967 preseason, Grier suffered a severe Achilles tendon tear and missed the entire season.
As luck would have it, LA took that moment to blow through their opponents and win 11 games (the most in franchise history), returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1955.
The Rams would lose to Green Bay 28-7 in the Conference playoffs.
Grier’s injury eventually healed, and the Rams coaching staff believed he would be back for 1968.
So, it was surprising to all when Grier publicly announced in the summer of ‘68 that he was retiring from football to pursue opportunities in television.
Just as he had done in college, Grier’s personality won the hearts of everyone he met.
While playing football in LA, he got to know several people in the television and movie industries, and they saw a bright future for Grier.
A number of studios and entertainers wanted Grier to join them, and the opportunities were too good to pass up.
In 11 years as a player, Grier is credited with 13 fumble recoveries, two safeties, and 36.5 sacks (unofficial).
He was an NFL champion, a two-time Pro Bowler, and a three-time All-Pro.
Grier is a Natural
As soon as he left football, Grier was deluged with acting and television requests.
Uncle Miltie sandwiched between Roger Brown and Rosey Grier pic.twitter.com/PLoaKp7H7S
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) September 18, 2021
For the next several years, he appeared in shows such as Daniel Boone and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Grier also traveled with comedian Bob Hope during a USO tour visiting American troops stationed in Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, and Guam in 1968.
He remained involved in television and movies through the early 1980s.
The Assassination of Robert Kennedy
While staying busy with his acting gigs, Grier became involved in numerous benefits and charities, especially to help underprivileged children.
During a stop in Washington D.C. in early 1968 to attend an event for one of his charities, Grier met Ethel and Bobby Kennedy.
The trio instantly connected, and Grier regularly spoke at campaign events for Kennedy’s run for the presidency in ‘68.
Grier also filled in as an unofficial bodyguard for Ethel on occasion.
On June 5, 1968, the Kennedys and Grier were in Los Angeles for a campaign stop.
Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones as extra security for RFK in Los Angeles pic.twitter.com/8FYZmGHWMn
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) April 9, 2022
Robert Kennedy was speaking at the Ambassador Hotel to a room full of reporters.
Grier stood only a few feet behind Kennedy and smiled while his friend spoke.
At one point in his speech, Kennedy made a comment about Grier that made the entire room chuckle.
“…to Rosey Grier, who said that he’d take care of anybody who didn’t vote for me.”
Not long after, Kennedy made his final statement and then waved to the crowd and exited the stage.
“My thanks to all of you. Now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there,” Kennedy said as he ended his speech.
To exit the Ambassador, Kennedy and his entourage went through the hotel’s kitchen.
Kennedy shook hands with some of the kitchen staff while Grier walked a few paces behind him.
Suddenly, three shots rang out, and Kennedy fell to the floor.
There was a scuffle to subdue Sirhan Sirhan, the man who had fired the gun at Kennedy.
Rosey Grier worked as part of the security detail for Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.
On the night of RFK's murder, accounts are that Grier blocked assassin Sirhan Sirhan's trigger with his finger after the initial shots and helped subdue him.
This week in 1968 pic.twitter.com/gU38qnCLjp
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) June 6, 2022
In numerous television interviews, Grier has commented on what happened next and how he helped wrestle the gun away from Sirhan.
“My point was to hold him,” Grier remembered. “I put him up on this table and I wrapped his legs up so he couldn’t kick. And there was a guy standing next to me and George Plimpton was struggling to get the gun out of his hand. And George couldn’t do it. So all I did was put my hand over the weapon, I pulled the trigger back so it wouldn’t fire. And I wrenched it out of his hand and put it in my pocket.”
Once the gun was taken away from Sirhan, people began kicking and punching him.
Although he was upset that Kennedy had been gunned down, Grier would not permit any more violence from happening.
“Bobby [Kennedy] was down. They couldn’t help him … and so they came to get after [Sirhan Sirhan], and they started to pummel him … and I just fought them off because I was not going to allow [them] to commit a murder on this man, and so I protected him. … though he had hurt a friend that we all loved and the damage that was done,” Grier said.
Despite attempts to save his life, Kennedy died the following day.
The assassination was yet another in a series of brutal murders that took place during the 1960s.
That decade also saw the violent deaths of Robert Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, and Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Grier Continues to Entertain
After serving as a bodyguard to Ethel Kennedy, Grier worked for various other political figures over the next few decades.
He traveled with Democrats and Republicans and endorsed the likes of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush.
Along with his interest in politics, Grier has been active in the faith community and with groups such as The Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Grier has a unique fan base due to his extensive work with needlepoint and macrame and even wrote a book on the subject, Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men.
Hey, I'll let you be the one to tell Rosey Grier needlepoint is for girls. I'd rather remain alive. pic.twitter.com/P03R13UPst
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) June 17, 2019
He was teased about his interest in these endeavors but Grier eventually won over his hyper-masculine friends.
“Every one of them does needlepoint now,” he laughs.
Grier has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame as well as The California Sports Hall of Fame.
He is 90 years old and has been married to his third wife, Cydnee, since 2013.