10-mile trip for Gregg takes him a world away
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

July 1, 2006 - When Forrest Gregg left the family farm in Birthright at the age of 15 to go to school in Sulphur Springs, he had no idea how far that 10-mile move would take him.

It started a journey that landed him in four Super Bowls as a player and coach and eventually a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making Gregg the most accomplished athlete in Sulphur Springs history.

It is a career that began in 1948 when he moved to Sulphur Springs to play football, baseball, basketball and track for the Wildcats.

Now living in semi-retirement in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his wife of 46 years, Barbara, Gregg does some part-time consulting work for a real estate and construction business. Earlier this week, he pondered the route his life has taken, including a collegiate and professional playing and coaching career spanning five decades.

"Going to school in Sulphur Springs and playing football was a great experience for me," Gregg recounted. "I didn't live at home. I had a garage apartment with Mrs. Ashcroft, and worked for Texas Power and Light one summer and had a standing job with B&B Cleaners for a man named Bill Chapman - he took me under his wing and helped me a lot. "

"Being able to go to school in Sulphur Springs really opened a lot of doors for me. I think the coaches there prepared me for college and taught me some things I needed to know. I never dreamed I'd ever get a football scholarship to SMU and get an education there. That gave me a lot of options in my life."

He took full advantage of those options.

After graduating from SSHS in 1952, Gregg was offered a scholarship to play offensive tackle at SMU. He earned All-Southwest Conference honors as a senior and was selected No. 2 in the draft by the Green Bay Packers.

But, he was also drafted by the U.S. Army, and served for two years, coincidentally in Colorado where he now lives.

He was released from military service three months early so he could resume his professional football career - and he resumed it with a vengeance.

Playing under legendary coach Vince Lombardi - for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named - Gregg was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro eight consecutive years.

He was the starting right tackle for Green Bay when the Packers won their first NFL championship in 1961, and he was there for both of the first two Super Bowls, which the Packers won. He also played in the 1971 Super Bowl with the Cowboys and led the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl 16 as head coach, the only man to appear in Super Bowls as both a player and a head coach.

He is widely respected for being the player whom Lombardi wrote in his autobiography, Run to Daylight, "Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!"

That's quite a resume for a man who came to live in a town where the city limit sign said the population was 6,742.

A teenager then, Gregg still has a message for young people.

"One thing I would say to kids nowadays if I had the chance," he said, "is that if a guy will put out the effort and decide what he wants to do and give it everything he's got to get there - I think he's got a chance in life.

That's how he became one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play the game. Gregg's life isn't a reference point for luck or the stars aligning correctly. It's about hard work and perseverance.

"I never was afraid of hard work and always did as much as I possibly could to be in condition and be ready for the challenge of the next game," Gregg said for the reason for his success.

"Bill Chapman once said, 'If you told Forrest Gregg to do something, he was going to do it just the way you told him. If you told him right, he was going to do it perfectly. If you told him wrong, you'd both be in trouble,' " Gregg laughed.

That mentality helped him become a Hall of Fame member in 1977 along with being named a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, NFL Hall of Fame Millennium Team and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

He had a chance to play not only for Lombardi, but for Dallas coach Tom Landry, two mentors who he said were the best two coaches in the game.

"Playing under them helped me immensely in my coaching career," he said.

When his playing days ended, Gregg took up coaching with the San Diego Chargers, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati before taking the Green Bay coaching job in 1984.

Four years later, another coaching project came his way - one he couldn't turn down.

SMU, trying to rebuild from the debacle of the death penalty that left the school without a football team, called on a man whose integrity and experience was invaluable.

Gregg led the Mustangs - playing with little more than a team full of walk-on players and scholarship freshmen  - to an emotional come-from-behind 31-30 win over the University of Connecticut.

"Coaching as SMU after the death penalty is really something that was important to me. That was the best bunch of kids I ever coached," Gregg explained. "They weren't real talented, but they didn't know it. They absolutely gave me and SMU the best they had to give.

"We were playing in the Southwest Conference with a bunch of freshmen and a bunch of walk-ons. I knew we'd get our rear ends beat - and we did - but they had short memories and a lot of character. We won two games that year, which was a minor miracle. That just shows what character can do."

The victories were sweet, also, as he shared them with two other Mustangs, his children Forrest Jr. (who lives in Cincinnati) and Karen (who lives in Santa Fe, N.M.).

For his part in not only rebuilding the SMU football team but re-establishing the athletic credibility of the university, Gregg was awarded the Dallas All-Sports Association Special Achievement Award in 1990. He started a four-year stint as SMU athletic director that same year.

Now at age 72, Gregg is retired from the rigors of coaching.

"There's generally a time for everything. I enjoyed every bit of it. It's like playing - there's a time when you can do it and there's a time when you can no longer do that," he said. "When you're coaching, you coach according to your philosophy, and you don't worry about what other people think. At least, that's the way I did it. Sometimes, I felt like the players had to put up with me, and sometimes I have to put up with them.

"I enjoyed coaching very much. It was one of those jobs where I didn't feel like I was going to work even though there was a lot of time spent at it with practices and film work and scouting. It was something I loved doing."

He also remembers fondly his beginning into organized sports - on the dusty fields at SSHS.

"Having the opportunity to play football, basketball and baseball for the Wildcats was something I will also cherish," he said.

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