It’s his family, friends, and former colleagues and coaches who mean the most to him. In fact, those are the things in his life he cherishes. The championships were great and rank up there among his memories, but it’s his roots from where he draws his greatest strength.
And because of that, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance have teamed up to arrange for a gathering at his home hometown high school in Sulphur Springs, Texas, on Monday, April 8. Gregg will be honored at the high school as part of the “Hometown Hall of Famers,” a national program honoring the hometown roots of the sport’s greatest coaches, players, and contributors with special ceremonies and plaque dedication events.
“This is very special time for us – the whole family,” Gregg said in an interview with lombardiave.com. My daughter, Karen, is going to present me and we’ll have all those old friends there. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Allstate and the Hall of Fame. I feel like this is an award not just for me, but for Sulphur Springs and Sulphur Springs High School and all the people I went to school with.”
Gregg, who resides now in Colorado Springs, Colo., has suffered the past couple of years with Parkinson’s disease, but one couldn’t tell from talking to him. He seems content and loves recalling the days from 50-plus years ago when his strength and endurance as a young man allowed him to play 16 seasons and 188 straight games with the Green Bay Packers.
Gregg is old school not just because that’s the way he was taught, it’s because that’s who he is. When describing where and how he grew up at a gathering to recognize his book, “Winning in the Trenches,” Gregg said, “I grew up in a small community, north of Sulphur Springs, that most of you don’t even know where it is. Birthright was 10 miles north of the county seat, Sulphur Springs … and at the time, Sulphur Springs had only about 6,000 people, and Birthright was ‘pushing it’ to have 250 or more, but you knew almost everyone.”
He remembered his high school days in Sulphur Springs when the coaches and teachers he worked with had such an instrumental role in determining his life’s passion. He remembered his coaches who challenged him and inspired him. There was Skinny Davis, the man who coached him in high school and helped convince him to attend Southern Methodist University from where he was selected in the second round by Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers – another coach who greatly influenced his life path.
When asked what he may have done with his life had he not gone into professional football, Gregg said, “I think about that and especially now I think about that – what I would have done. I think because I always admired the coaches and teachers that I had, I think maybe I would have been a school teacher and coach. I guess at the time I didn’t know I liked coaching, but that’s probably what I would have done.”
And after thinking about that statement a moment, he said he realized that he had spent a great deal of time in the coaching ranks. Gregg started his pro coaching career in Cleveland with the Browns in 1975, where he stayed three years. He then moved on to the Cincinnati Bengals where he coached four years (1980-83). His best season with the Bengals was in 1981 when they won the AFC Championship and had it not been for the famous Joe Montana-led drive late in the Super Bowl, that team could have been world champions.
Gregg was hired in 1984 by the Green Bay Packers where he coached through 1987 before resigning and taking a job at SMU where he finished his coaching career.
As a player, Gregg is known as one of the best offensive lineman in the league’s history. Vince Lombardi called him the “finest” player he ever coached.
And he talks freely and openly about the respect and love he had for Lombardi – and especially the influences he had.
“First of all, I think the most influence he [Lombardi] had … he always said three things were most important in life: you religion, your family and your job … those are your priorities, he told us. No question he made those priorities while he was with us in Green Bay. He lived by it,” Gregg said.
“The day I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I really didn’t have a speech and I didn’t know what I was going to say until I got up there. It was a very emotional time for me. I said I was going to tell the people how I felt. But as I was riding in that parade and there were people yelling at you and you try to act like you’re not nervous … I saw my wife, my two children, and … I saw a friend of mine from high school, Bill Pogue, and Bill Forester a great linebacker at Green Bay … I saw those two guys and my family and that really touched me. When I made my speech that ‘s what I thought about – the people who are important. They were there for me.”
Among those people who have been so important to him were the players with whom toiled on the field of play.
He remembered Gino Marchetti, the Baltimore Colts‘ defensive lineman who was the toughest player he lined up against. “Gino Marchetti – Baltimore Colts – maybe the purest pass rusher of all time. Marchetti was a great pass rusher who had strength, speed, and quickness and was also great against the run. There wasn’t one scond during a ball game against Gino Marchetti when you could relax. He was always in your face – always ready to come off the ball to make a tackle or sack the quarterback.”
But it was his own teammates that he thought highly of … they were the players he practiced against every day – the players who made him into the man he became.
“Playing and practicing against them – yes, absolutely. Whatever position they played, they made you better. Whether it was Bill Forester in the outside position and then there was Dave Robinson who came in … they maybe didn’t go 110 percent in practice like they would in the ball game, but they went all out and made you work harder and made you a better football player.”
Gregg also coached some pretty good players during his days in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Green Bay. But the best player he ever coached was another hall of famer that he drafted in the first round (3rd overall) of the 1980 NFL Draft – Anthony Munoz.
He recalled the day prior to the draft when he first met Munoz:
I went out to California before the draft and worked him out. There were some questions on well he could move [because he had knee surgery that offseason]. I kind of wanted to see how he would do. So, I was the defensive guy and I set up different situations so he could block me. I told him that I was going to rush the passer on third and nine. He set up on me and I did an inside move and then was going to do an outside move – he jammed me and knocked me right on my butt … I know that he thought, ‘there goes my chance in the draft.'”
Gregg was impressed and knew right away that Munoz was a special player – not only was he special, but Munoz joined Gregg in the Hall of Fame with his induction in 1998 after a 13-year career – all with Cincinnati and all at left tackle.
“That Lofton, he was pretty good, and so was Collinsworth. I was just lucky to work with guys of that caliber.”
In talking about how the game has changed, especially the play of offensive linemen, Gregg said that two major rules have decidedly changed how the game is played today.
“The difference is that they have the ability to use their hands now. We couldn’t use your hands at all when I played. Now they can use their hands and on the other side of the ball the defensive linemen can no longer use the head slap against offensive linemen. I think that’s for the better – these rules have made the game better.”
And as far as the changes in the game that surround the amount of money involved, especially when it comes to player salaries, Gregg said, “That’s the times. The guys now – they play football well – there are great players in this league and I will never begrudge a player in making as much money as they can make. I made what I made and had the chance to play.”
Clearly, Gregg is pleased with what life has brought him – championships, friendships and a chance to be part of a football generation that made the game what it is today.
“It was a great time,” he said as he remembered the changes and influences he and his colleague’s brought about. “We saw a chance for a pension; we saw two leagues come together to form one big league; and we saw quite a few rule changes that really made the game great. Those were great days.”
What he didn’t say was that it was his generation that set the game up for success. Bolstered by the influence of television and games being beamed into households across the country every Sunday made professional football not just a game, but a huge business – one of the biggest and most popular businesses in the world today.
But all that doesn’t mean much to Gregg as he gets set to go back to his roots Monday – to go back to his high school and to be honored by those from where he began.
It’s the people who matter most to him; the influences, his family, and those who have stood by him, in health and sickness.
Over the years, thousands and millions have said thanks to him.
On Monday, he gets to say thanks – and that pleases him more than anything.
Below are some videos of Gregg that may be of interest …