CFL nearly lured Gregg

EARL McRAE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:33 PM ET

The vice-president of football operations for the Ottawa Renegades has been called the greatest tackle in the history of the NFL, but here's a little-known story about this man who the greatest coach in the history of the NFL, Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, said in his autobiography was "the finest player I ever coached."

Forrest Gregg almost went to the CFL instead. The Calgary Stampeders.

Who actually offered him more money than the Packers.

It was 1955, early December. Alvis Forrest Gregg, who'd never played a second of football until his high school freshman year, one of 11 children of a Texas farmer and his wife, was in his graduating year at Southern Methodist University where he starred on the team.

"Back then, they did the first three rounds of the NFL draft early, and I'd already been picked by Green Bay, their second-round pick. But, they hadn't talked to me about a contract yet."

Player agents were unheard of at the time, and one day Gregg got a phone call from a man in Canada who said his name was Jack Hennemier, head coach of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian league, who wanted to talk to him about signing with the Stamps who'd finished last in the western division in the '55 season with four wins and 12 losses.

"I was kind of a historian, so I'd heard of Calgary, and being from Texas, I knew what everybody in Texas knows -- that the greatest rodeo in the world was there, the Calgary Stampede."

Hennemier flew to Dallas to meet Gregg.

BOUGHT STEAK

"He took me to a restaurant --The Cattlemen's, I think it was --and bought me a steak dinner. He told me all about the league and the team. We went over to SMU and he showed me some game film of the Stampeders.

"He was a real good guy, I liked him a lot."

Hennemier offered Gregg a contract: $7,500 for the 1956 season, plus a $500 signing bonus.

"That was good money back then," says Gregg. "I told him I was definitely interested, and that I'd like a bit of time to think about it."

Gregg, naturally, wanted to await The Pack's offer, and finally it came, from player personnel director Jack Vanisi.

"He also took me out for a steak dinner, but it wasn't as good a restaurant as The Cattlemen's," chuckles Gregg.

The offer: $6,700 for the first season, no singing bonus.

"I told him I'd got a better offer from another team, but I didn't say how much or where. He got back to me and upped the offer to the same as Calgary's, $7,500. Still no signing bonus. I told him I'd been offered a $500 signing bonus as well.

"He offered me a $250 signing bonus. I told him I'd think it over a couple of days. I called him and said, 'Okay, I'll do it.' "

And, at the time, the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar.

Gregg says he wasn't enamoured with the Packers -- "hell, I didn't know much more about Green Bay than I did about Calgary" -- but a couple of past SMU teammates had gone to the Packers and "they'd come back wearing these brand new nice suits."

FOOTBALL DREAM

Also, it was the NFL, every American schoolboy football player's dream.

"I promised Jack I'd phone him if I was going to sign with Green Bay, and I did. He said 'Well, if anything happens that it doesn't work out for you, call me.' I said I would, and I would have."

The Calgary Stampeders fired Hennemier midway through the '56 season. They finished last again.

Forrest Gregg played 16 seasons in the NFL, his final one with the Dallas Cowboys, a then-league record 188 straight games. He was nine times a Pro Bowler, he was on three Super Bowl champions.

Big, tough, smart, fast, fierce, he defined the position of offensive tackle.

Others who went with him to the Hall of Fame from his draft year were Lenny Moore, Baltimore Colts (first round pick); Sam Huff, New York Giants (third round); Willie Davis, Cleveland Browns (15th round), and Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers (17th round).

"Jack Hennemier became a scout," says Gregg, "and a few times in my career, we'd bump into each other and always, we'd talk about that time he tried to sign me.

"Like I said, I liked Jack. He was a real good guy."

earl.mcrae@ott.sunpub.com


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