Forrest Gregg, who earned the nickname “Iron Man” for playing in a then-record 188 consecutive NFL games during his Hall of Fame career, died Friday in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 85.
Barbara Gregg said her husband of 59 years died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
The former offensive lineman, who was a seven-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler, played 15 seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys from 1956 to 1971.
Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once called Gregg “the best player I ever coached.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Barbara and the Gregg family,” Packers president Mark Murphy said in a statement. “He was a legendary player for the team, one of the greatest in our history. The ultimate team player, he raised the level of play of those around him. He also had a great connection with the organization over the years. We enjoyed welcoming him back to Lambeau Field and seeing fans appreciate him around the state.”
Forrest Gregg, whom Vince Lombardi called “the best player I ever coached,” won six NFL titles with the Packers and Cowboys. After his playing career, he coached the Bengals, Browns and Packers. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
After his playing career, Gregg went on to coach the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Packers, compiling a record of 75-85-1 over 11 seasons. He led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl in the 1981 season, where the Bengals lost to San Francisco 26-21.
“It’s a sad day here,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement. “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.”
A guard and tackle, Gregg played on six NFL/NFC championship teams and three Super Bowl winners, including the first two Super Bowls with the Packers. Gregg finished his career with a Super Bowl title with the Cowboys in 1971.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur posted a picture on Twitter to show just how tough Gregg was.
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of a true Packers legend, Forrest Gregg. This picture has been hanging in my home office for the last 10 years and serves as a great reminder of what a tough competitor Forrest was. #Packers #GoPackGo
12:12 AM – Apr 13, 2019
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“Forrest was right out of the Lombardi school,” said former Browns offensive lineman Doug Dieken, now the team’s radio analyst. “If you read a Lombardi book, you thought you played for Lombardi, because a lot of the quotes and the things that [Gregg] did were exactly the same. He was a tough guy, and there were some guys who didn’t like the discipline he demanded. The offensive linemen, we all liked him. …
“He was a straight shooter. He’d call you out. He was a good guy. A bit of a control freak in a lot of ways, but that was for the good of the team. That was what he felt. He was tough. He was Lombardi tough. He was Lombardi.”
Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Gregg was also elected to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1960s and its 75th anniversary team.
“The game lost a giant today,” Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. “Forrest Gregg exemplified greatness during a legendary career that earned him a Bronzed Bust in Canton. He was the type of player who led by example and, in doing so, raised the level of play of all those around him. Forrest symbolized many great traits and virtues that can be learned from this game to inspire people from all walks of life.”
Browns general manager John Dorsey, who played for the Packers, was drafted by Gregg in the second round of the 1984 draft.
“He was tough, disciplined and very demanding,” Dorsey said Friday. “He wanted the game to be played a certain way, and I always appreciated that about him. He was an honorable man, very principled. As a young player in this league, he was someone you wanted to follow. You could always feel his presence and he always wanted to make sure you knew he wanted the game played to his standard.
“I have a deep respect for him and I have a heavy heart today because he was the guy that brought me into the National Football League. Forrest’s mark in the NFL goes well beyond my time with him. This is a man that dedicated his life to the game of football. His success as a player, then his time coaching — including in Cleveland with the Browns — has left a long lasting impression on many.”
Gregg, a native of Birthright, Texas, played collegiately at SMU. He was selected by the Packers in the second round of the 1956 NFL draft.
He was hired at his alma mater to restore integrity to an SMU program that was handed the “death penalty” in the mid-1980s for paying players. They went 2-9 in 1989 upon their return and 1-10 the next year, after which Gregg became SMU’s athletic director.
“The finest bunch of players I was ever around, were the courageous kids at SMU,” Gregg told The AP in 2013 about those SMU teams. “That was one of the most enjoyable times of my football life. Those kids restored dignity to the Hilltop.”
Gregg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, and he had overcome melanoma in 1976 and colon cancer in 2001.
Barbara Gregg said her husband received a constant flow of calls from former teammates and players in the last two weeks telling him he’d made such a big difference in their lives.
“I’m overwhelmed at the amount of people that loved Forrest, of the number of players that said he made men out of them,” she said. “Forrest loved people. He loved everybody. He loved his children. He loved me. And it just broke my heart. My heart is broken.”
She said the funeral will be sometime next week in Colorado Springs and open to the public.
His family and his neurologist said Parkinson’s disease may have been related to numerous concussions he suffered during his playing career, but Gregg never blamed football for his health ailments. He refused to join concussion lawsuits against the NFL and said he still would have chosen to play the sport if he’d known there would be a hefty price to pay later in life.
“I don’t need anything from anybody but what I earned,” Gregg told The Associated Press in 2013.
ESPN’s Pat McManamon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.