Forrest Gregg Talks About the Green Bay Packers, Coaching and More
Hall of Fame offensive lineman Forrest Gregg is one of the greatest football players to ever play the game. He finished his career with six total championships, including three Super Bowl victories.
Five of those championships came with the Green Bay Packers, a team he continues to root for today. Even though the Packers lost in Week 3 to the Cincinnati Bengals, Gregg said, "I'm still a fan. I don't go one game at a time."
I had an opportunity to talk with Gregg about the Packers, his life as a coach and a handful of other topics.
Gregg was in Montreal, Canada as a part of the World Parkinson Congress. He's teamed up with Parkinson's More Than Motion, an online Facebook community dedicated to Parkinson's disease. "I'm here to educate. To let people know what I'm trying to do to combat the disease. With the More Than Motion, I'm trying to help people cope with Parkinson's."
Our conversation quickly turned back to football where Gregg is most comfortable. The game as he remembers it was a game of physicality. "The game has always been a violent game," Gregg said. "It's always been a physical game. And I don't think there is anything that could be done that would make this not a physical game."
He does, however, have some worries that the game is changing too much. "I don't see how you can change it and keep the same game you have. I know there are things that can be done that'll lessen the probability of a head injury, but you can't change everything and still have football."
After talking about the current state of football a little longer, our talk turned back to the days when he played and coached. His career started with the Packers, and his time under head coach Vince Lombardi was something that he'll never forget.
"Vince Lombardi was a special man. He was a special coach. He was someone I totally admired and I was happy that I was even able to play on his teams. He was a winner and he taught us how to be a winner. There's a lot of good coaches out there who believed in the same things he believed in, but not totally."
He went on to talk about the importance of the first Super Bowl. "We played the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I and we went in thinking we would win that game. And we did. Had we not won we would have felt like we let down what was at that time the National Football League (at that time the Packers represented the National Football League and the Chiefs represented the American Football League). It was a very rewarding thing to have won that game and be on that team that played in the first Super Bowl."
It was clear that Lombardi was a huge influence on Gregg's life while he was a player. Another coach who had a big impact on Gregg was Tom Landry, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Gregg played for Landry and the Cowboys for only one season in 1971, but he won his third Super Bowl with that Dallas team.
"I was fortunate enough in that I played for two of the best coaches who ever coached this game of football."
After retiring from football following the 1971 season, Gregg got into coaching. He started as an offensive line coach for the San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns before becoming the head coach in Cleveland in 1975.
The impact that Lombardi and Landry had on Gregg as a player carried over into his coaching career. "I could not be Vince Lombardi," he stated. "I could not be Tom Landry, but I could take things from them and put them into my mode of operations. So, that's where I was lucky. I learned a lot of technique about how to play the game from both of them and passed those things on to the players who played for me."
However, Gregg also realized that coaching was more than being like Landry or Lombardi. "Here's the thing about coaching. As a coach, your players have to believe in you. They have to believe in what you're teaching. You can't be somebody else."
After leaving the head job in Cleveland, Gregg went up to Canada to coach for a few years before returning as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he had his greatest experience as a coach.
"As a coach, my greatest experience was bringing that Bengals team to the Super Bowl. Even though we didn't win, that was probably the highlight of my coaching career."
Following his tenure in Cincinnati, Gregg took back-to-back jobs with his former teams. His first job was as head coach of the Packers from 1984-1987. After that, he went back to his alma mater and became the head coach at SMU.
"It was quite an honor to coach for SMU and the Green Bay Packers," Gregg stated. While he didn't have much to say about his time in Green Bay, he reflected on his job at SMU.
"I enjoyed coaching in college and the young men I had to coach. We had a group of kids that were mostly freshman and walk-on players playing against people who had established programs. To see those young men go out and not blink an eye on who they were playing was a great thing."
"They just went out and played the game the way it was supposed to be played with enthusiasm and not backing down from an opponent," he explained. It's easy to tell the pride he has in remembering his time at SMU.
"That was quite the experience I had at SMU."
As our time wound down, Gregg reflected on the honor he felt when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It puts you in the position of being one of the best football players ever."
With our conversation almost over, it wasn't hard to understand what makes this legend such an intriguing individual. It's obvious that he still has a love for the game of football that few will ever have. Even this late in life, he still takes on the task of teaching individuals about Parkinson's disease—the same disease that ails him—so that their lives can be enriched.
"I just have one more question," I asked. "Who do you want as your quarterback: Bart Starr, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers?"
There was a slight pause followed by a genuine laugh from the other side of the phone. "You put me in a real hard spot there, boy," he said to me.
Even with nothing else to prove to a fanbase that adores him, Gregg didn't want to pick a player just in case his choice offended the Packers faithful. That's why he's so beloved and adored.
That's why he'll always be remembered as one of the greatest Packers to ever play the game.
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