Gregg, (Alvis) Forrest

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GREGG, (Alvis) Forrest

(b. 18 October 1933 in Birthright, Texas), football player who was an All-Pro offensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) and who joined eleven Packers teammates in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Gregg, known from his earliest days by his middle name, moved with his family to Sulphur Springs, Texas, about seventy-five miles east of Dallas, as an adolescent. His father, David Boyd Gregg, who also went by his middle name, was a farmer. His mother, Josephine Shirley, was a homemaker. Gregg was one of eleven children. He showed athletic ability at an early age, and by the time he reached Sulphur Springs High School, he was talented enough to take part in basketball, baseball, and track and field in addition to starring in football. Gregg earned a football grant-in-aid to attend Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, enrolling in the fall of 1952. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity play at that time, but Gregg made an impact as a sophomore. By his senior year he had the respect of his Mustang coaches and teammates. He was elected captain of the team and was a two-time All-South-west Conference (SWC) choice. Gregg was also named an All-America as a senior.

Gregg's size—six feet, four inches and 230 pounds—attracted Green Bay Packers scouts, and that team made him their second-round draft choice for 1956. Gregg, who played offense and defense at SMU, projected himself as a defensive tackle but soon ended up on offense. Although light at his weight, he held his own as a rookie. A Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) member in college, Gregg postponed his military obligation until after his first NFL season. His twenty-one-month "hitch" caused him to miss the entire 1957 season, but he was back in the Packers uniform for 1958. He fashioned a then-record streak of 188 consecutive games played before he retired. The only serious injury Gregg suffered in his long and highly decorated career was a broken arm as a high school sophomore.

Green Bay had a reputation as the NFL's "Siberia" in the 1950s. The team's glory days were a distant memory at that time. However, Gregg and a group of talented young players, including Jim Taylor, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, and Ray Nitschke, all future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, were on hand, waiting for direction and leadership. Coach Vince Lombardi arrived and showed the way. From a 1–10–1 record in 1958, Lombardi guided the Packers to a 7–5 mark in 1959, his first year at the helm. Also in 1959 Gregg, unlike many pro players, returned to SMU and completed his degree work, graduating with a B.S. in physical education. In 1960 the Packers played for the NFL championship. Although Green Bay lost to the Philadelphia Eagles that year, they reigned as NFL champions in 1961 and 1962. Gregg had an especially gratifying year in 1961. Because the guard Jerry Kramer suffered injuries, Gregg was forced to move from tackle to guard. He was just as effective in that position, and he was again selected to play in the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro teams. During his career Gregg played in nine Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro eight times. On 12 July 1960 Gregg married Barbara Sue Dedek; they had two children. Gregg's son, Forrest Gregg, Jr., followed his father to SMU and into coaching.

Gregg was a keen student of the game. He soaked up every word and every instruction that Lombardi had to offer. He supplemented this by studying miles and miles of game film. By studying so much film Gregg knew exactly what his opponent would do when they met on the field. He was never surprised. He also honed his skills by practicing daily against the Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis. Said Gregg: "After Willie, nearly everything else was easy. He kept me sharp and taught me a lot about what to expect from other defensive ends." Gregg continued: "I watched all the film I could of Jim Parker and Roosevelt Brown [acknowledged masters of the tackle position], especially when I first came into the league. That's the only way a fellow with a little ability can become a good tackle, that and a lot of hard work." Gregg's durability also attested to his superior conditioning. With Gregg, the Packers won Super Bowls I and II.

Several times Gregg attempted to retire and go into coaching. He actually accepted a position on the University of Tennessee staff in 1963 only to be persuaded by Lombardi, who called Gregg "the finest football player I ever coached," to continue playing. In 1965 injuries again hit the Packers guards, and Gregg again played guard as well as tackle. His play was of such a high caliber that the Associated Press (AP) named him as a guard to its All-Pro team, while the United Press International (UPI) selected him as a tackle. Twice more, in 1969 and 1970, Gregg attempted to retire. Although he was set to coach in each of those seasons, when the whistle sounded for the opening kickoff, Gregg was back playing his familiar right tackle position. Finally the thirty-eight-year-old Gregg was released by the Packers in 1971. Tom Landry, however, coaxed Gregg to sign with the Dallas Cowboys as a player. Gregg helped the Cowboys to its first Super Bowl championship and his third.

Gregg at last began his coaching career as an assistant with the San Diego Chargers in 1972. He moved to Cleveland for the 1974 season and was head coach of the Browns in 1975. He was voted NFL Coach of the Year in 1976 for improving the Browns from 3–11 in 1975 to 9–5 in 1976. In his final Browns season, 1977, Gregg was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After a stint in the Canadian Football League (CFL) with the Toronto Argonauts, Gregg returned to the NFL as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1980. In his second season he had the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. His team lost to the budding San Francisco dynasty, but Gregg became the first Super Bowl player to take a team to the Super Bowl as a head coach. In 1984 he returned to Green Bay determined to return the Packers to the glory days he had experienced as a part of the dynasty with championships in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, and 1967. He compiled a 25–37–1 record in Green Bay, then left the Packers after the 1987 season to return to his college alma mater. SMU was coming off of a two-year "death penalty" (no football) imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for illegal payments to players. Gregg reestablished the once proud program, then in 1991 he moved into the athletics director's position, where he remained until he retired in the mid-1990s.

Gregg was dependable, durable, and versatile. He studied the game of football and was greatly influenced by Lombardi. He used the lessons he learned from his mentor to become a successful coach but is best remembered as an elite player. Said the late coach George Allen: "My teams avoided him as much as possible. At other times, we double-teamed him. But I don't think I ever saw Forrest Gregg play anything other than an outstanding football game." Lombardi commented: "He keeps trying to improve himself all the time. That's what makes Gregg such a fine offensive tackle. He is never satisfied with anything less than a top grade on every play." Many years after his playing career, Gregg remained a popular choice for an offensive tackle position on any NFL all-time team.

Gregg's life and career are discussed in Vince Lombardi with W. C. Heinz, Run to Daylight! (1963); Chuck Johnson, The Greatest Packers (1968); George Allen with Ben Olan, Pro Football's 100 Greatest Players (1982); Ritter Collett, Super Stripes (1982); and Rick Korch, The Truly Great (1993).

Jim Campbell