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Kiszla: NFL great Forrest Gregg in new battle vs. Parkinson's

Wednesday May 30, 2012

Mark Kiszla

The Denver Post - When football legend Forrest Gregg opened the envelope, the last thing he expected was a love letter from Chicago. Aren't the Bears supposed to hate the Packers?

"These are some of the nicest words I've ever read," thought Gregg, as he sat at home in Colorado Springs. The 78-year-old former offensive lineman needed a little encouragement after bad news from his family doctor. The diagnosis? Parkinson's disease, a nervous system disorder with symptoms that can range from tremors to unsteady balance and memory loss.

At the bottom of the letter, there was a heartfelt wish, issued in the form of an order, "You can beat this darn thing."

The message was signed by former Chicago Bears defender Ed O'Bradovich, who spent most of the 1960s trying to knock Gregg's block off.

"Oh, did we battle," Gregg recalled with a laugh. "I never gave an inch. He never conceded an inch. And he never griped to the ref when I held him. But he would curse me."

From 1956-71, Gregg never missed a game. If there has been a tougher man in NFL history, the late, great Vince Lombardi never met him. Lombardi insisted, "Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached."

No argument here. As a child in the 1960s, my extended family was split on Sunday afternoons by allegiances to the Bears and Packers. The game was on TV after dinner, a noontime feast I often helped feed to my grandfather, when he had trouble holding his fork steady. Grandpa had Parkinson's disease.

The recent suicide of former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau intensified focus on the long-term toll that America's favorite game can take on its stars.

"My doctors think there's a definite connection between head trauma and my Parkinson's," said Gregg, who exercises regularly as part of his regimen to fight the disease.

The Colorado Neurological Institute is trying to give Gregg more ammunition in the fight. That's why when a golf tourney benefiting patients in need of neurological treatment is held June 8 at Arrowhead Golf Club, Gregg will be there. If you want to help the cause, call 720-974-4094 for information.

"In football, the more you know about your opponent, the better chance you have to beat him," Gregg said. "I look at Parkinson's the same way."


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