TDBH: Gregg’s bolt a ghost of future Christmas Eve legends

Posted Dec 23, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 24, 1983

Super Bowl head coach Forrest Gregg’s decision today to leave the Bengals and coach his beloved Packers leaves the city and locker room stunned. Gregg’s return to Green Bay, where late Packers coach Vince Lombardi called him his greatest player while they were winning the first two Super Bowls, ignites four decades of Christmas Eve legends in Bengaldom.  Eight years later on a Christmas Eve morning Bengals president Mike Brown sits down with Gregg’s successor, Sam Wyche, to discuss what he thinks is going to be Wyche’s ninth season and the two have enough of a disagreement that they can’t agree if Wyche is fired or resigned as the tenure of the club’s other Super Bowl coach also ends abruptly.

Dave Shula, Wyche’s successor, celebrates a wild comeback victory on Christmas Eve, 1994 at Riverfront Stadium when kicker Doug Pelfrey becomes the only man in history to kick two field goals in the final three seconds to win an NFL game as the Bengals erase a 10-point lead in the final 3:23 for a 33-30 win over the Eagles. Just to prove he isn’t Marley’s Ghost, Pelfrey does it again at the gun the  very next year on Christmas Eve at Riverfront, this one from 51 as the Bengals come back from a 24-3 half-time deficit to beat the Vikings, 27-24.  But 11 years later in Denver the Bengals, unbelievably, can’t get a kick off when a blown snap wipes out a PAT with 40 seconds left that would have put the Bengals in overtime in a game that would put them in the playoffs with a victory. They stay home that year, but five years later in 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson vaults into highlights immortality when he leaps over a standing Cardinals defender, lands on both feet in the end zone as the Bengals go on to shock the world that left them for 0-16 and win their ninth game in the first year of Green-Dalton and vault into the postseason.  And it figures that even in the Bengals 50th season Christmas Eve 2017 looms huge on the coaching front as the expected last home game for Marvin Lewis, the Bengals’ all-time winningest coach.

Gregg’s move ends a year of swirling uncertainty in Bengaldom rocked by drug arrests, defections to the USFL, player unrest over the club’s salary structure, and a 6-10 record as they fall from the heights of the 1981 AFC title fashioned by his discipline and command. “No matter how many times he yells at you or kicks you in the pants you still respect him. I respect him more than any other man or coach I’ve known,” says wide receiver Cris Collinsworth. “He took an average team and made it into a champion. I don’t know if all that happened this year had any bearing, but I don’t think he’d leave a job he thinks is unfinished.  But how many times will he be offered the Green Bay job? I can see where he’d want to go back to a place he feels he’s at home.” No one blames Gregg for leaving the Freezer Bowl for the Ice Bowl. There is buzz that he has grown dissatisfied with some decisions made by management, but Bengals founder Paul Brown releases a heart-felt statement hours after Gregg announces he’s gone. “Forrest Gregg has been more than a coach. He’s a good personal friend. We value his friendship … He contributed so much for our team and we are particularly grateful to him. Anytime you have a coach who takes you to the Super Bowl you have to have something special.”

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