The first head coach to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl passed away earlier this week at age 85 after battling Parkinson’s disease.
To understand why Forrest Gregg was able to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl, you must first understand Gregg as a player. Tough is really the only word to describe him. Even that is almost too light of an adjective.
Gregg wasn’t just a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, he was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who spent the bulk of his career playing for the Vince Lombardi Packers. Even today, you still see clips of how those teams beat opponents into submission. The power running game, specifically the power sweep was Lombardi’s weapon of choice.
Toughness was required and Gregg was one of the guys who helped Lombardi set the tone. Football was far more physical back then. Playing in the trenches for Lombardi was as physical as it got. Gregg was one of the first players to earn an “iron-man” label. He played in 188 straight games and made nine Pro Bowls.
Watch a short video here from the NFL Films YouTube channel. The way number 75 opened up running lanes or protected his quarterback jumps off the screen. He made it look so easy.
Gregg played his final season in 1971 with Dallas and won his third Super Bowl. He took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame in 1977.
After a few other coaching stops, Gregg took over the Bengals prior to the 1980 season. Cincinnati was 4-12 in 1979. The former Packer legend had the team in the Super Bowl in two years. Player movement was rare and complicated in the pre free agency era.
Quick turnarounds were much harder to pull off. The coach had to coach even harder than they do today. At times, this involved instilling toughness and making players believe they were better than they really were. Gregg was perfect for the job and a master at this.
The Bengals were behind 21-0 in their 1981 season opener. It would have been real easy for a team that had won 10 games total in the last two years to just throw in the towel. However, the toughness and resiliency of the coach rubbed off on the team. Not only did Cincinnati come back to win that game, the franchise ended up in the biggest game of all for the first time. The Bengals beat the Chargers in the AFC title game. It was one of the coldest games ever played. Gregg’s team was unfazed by the conditions.
The rest of Gregg’s coaching career was fairly pedestrian. Still, his playing career and the 1981 Bengals are worth remembering forever.
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