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 The Blond Bomber

Greg Cook
Gregory Lynn Cook
Born 11/20/1946 Dayton Ohio
Drafted Round 1 Cincinnati 1969
College University of Cincinnati
HS Chillicothe [Ohio}

The man who changed the face of pro football as we know it today is Greg Cook.
Not many people outside of his native state of Ohio remember him these days, but in Cincinnati, where he starred at the University and then with the Bengals in 1969, he is still a legendary figure, still a topic of conversation. There has never been an NFL rookie like him, and almost everyone who saw him play has some personal memory -- the 70-yarder he threw to Bob Trumpy, the 60-yarder to Eric Crabtree, the deep passes that came off his arm like rockets, but rockets delivered with perfect touch and timing. They remembered his poise and savvy and instinctive knowledge of how to attack a defense.
He was a 6-foot-4, 220-pound, blond-haired football god who was going to rewrite all the records, whose future was unlimited, but when people talk about him today, the inevitable note of sadness comes in, because Greg Cook's functional career ended after one season.
A misdiagnosed and mistreated shoulder injury, years of pain and frustration and rehabs that always ended with more pain and frustration. This lasted for five miserable years, and then he was through. A legend, an unfulfilled dream, a shake of the head. Oh, man, what a quarterback this kid was gonna be.
He had all the skills, including great athletic ability, but his true gift was the way he could throw the deep ball. He averaged 17.5 yards per completion during that 1969 season. That's an unheard of figure, a mark no one has come close to since. NFL quarterbacks today average a little better than 11 yards, but 17.5? None of the top dozen receivers in the league last year averaged that. Cook's top wideout, Crabtree, averaged 21.4. All three tight ends, Trumpy, Chip Myers and Bruce Coslet, averaged over 20. Last season no NFL receiver hit that mark.
In football's primitive era, when the forward pass was an infrequent heave, there were some high numbers, but the passers were completing 35 to 40 percent of their throws. Cook operated in a highly advanced, sophisticated system, with an accent, of course, on the big strike downfield. Comparing it to today's West Coast offense is like comparing a 500-foot home run to a bunt.

And who was the architect of that greedy offense? Think of the most unlikely name you can find. That's right, Bill Walsh. He was in his second year as receivers coach for the Bengals, after having served an apprenticeship in the Oakland Raiders' long-ball system, and then putting in a year with the San Jose Apaches in the Continental League. Receivers coach was his official designation, but Paul Brown had turned the design of the offense over to him.
On the last college Saturday of 1968 Walsh joined an entourage of Bengals coaches to attend the University of Cincinnati's home game against Bo Schembechler's Miami of Ohio in Nippert Stadium, coincidentally the home of the Bengals. They were interested in Cook. So was everyone else. The previous week he had set a single game NCAA record by passing for 554 yards against Ohio U.
"Miami was our big game," Cook says. "Oldest rivalry west of the Alleghenies. It was Schembechler's last game before he went to Michigan. Some film crew had been out there, doing a thing on their All-American linebacker, Bob Babich. We were all excited coming out onto the field, and then one guy said to me, 'Look who's here.'
"I looked in the stands, right where we were coming out, and there were all the Bengals coaches sitting there, Paul Brown, Walsh, Tiger Johnson, Jack Donaldson, the whole bunch of them. I was stunned.
"Well, we were behind at the half, 21-6, and we had minus-six yards of offense. Paul Brown got up and left. Walsh told me later that he'd stayed around for a while after that, but I kept looking in the stands and I couldn't see any of them. Then we came from behind and beat them, 23-21, and I threw for 406 yards.
"Someone who knew Brown told me that he went down to his social club that evening, the place where he always went to on Saturdays, and asked someone, 'What happened at the U.C. game?' The guy told him we won, 23-21. 'You're a liar,' Brown said.
"But he got the game film, and when he got through looking at it, he said, 'That quarterback. That's our draft choice.'"
Cook ended the season as the NCAA's total offense leader and ranked second in passing yardage. He worked in a system devised by two men who would both become head coaches in the NFL, Homer Rice and his offensive coordinator, Leeman Bennett. Both of them stressed the deep passing game, with special attention on the quarterback's mechanics.
"I think that when I first started working with Bill Walsh," Cook says, "it was a pleasant surprise for him that I was ahead of the game, for a rookie. Otto Graham, who'd been Paul Brown's great quarterback in Cleveland, was our coach at the college all star game. He took me aside and told me, 'You know, I think coach Brown's probably going to let you call your own plays. He's gotten to that stage of his life.
"Then he said, 'If you see something that's not in the plan, do it anyway. Always remember to do something against the trend, against the down and distance conditions. You'll be surprised how successful you'll be, because everyone's always working off tendencies."
Except Walsh. He hated tendencies. He wouldn't repeat himself.
"He could see into the future," Cook says. "Everything he did was based on setting someone up for future meetings. He'd hold stuff back, he'd go against tendencies. I loved his system.
"His philosophy was based on stretching the field, which would force the linebackers deeper and open things up underneath. Then he'd go deep again. He always liked deep receivers. He liked to force the cornerbacks downfield, then go short to bring 'em up, then go deep again. It was like the horse on the merry-go-round, up and down, up and down. With the DBs, it was up and back, up and back. It was merciless. He had people worn out by halftime. By the end of the half, they didn't know what they were doing.
"It was never a take-what-they-give-us philosophy. It was make them take what we give them. And it gave me a feeling of invincibility. I felt I could make any throw he wanted me to make."
The Bengals weren't winners that season. They were young. They made mistakes, gave up too many yards. But their offense scared people, especially when they were going deep. They beat that season's Super Bowl champion, Kansas City, Cook hitting Crabtree for a 73-yard touchdown. They beat the playoff-bound Raiders, with Cook hitting Trumpy for a 44-yard score and Myers for a 35-yarder.
"Walsh always featured tight ends," Cook says. "Tight end through the zone, deep down the middle. Why don't teams do it more these days?"
Cincinnati tied another playoff team, the Houston Oilers, and Cook put on a passing show, TDs to Trumpy of 44 and 70 yards, a 70-yard score to Crabtree, and a fourth touchdown pass, this one a shortie to Trumpy of, imagine, only 14 yards.
He burned the San Diego Chargers with a 78-yard score, again to Trumpy, an all-pro that season, and a 39-yarder to Crabtree. We could go on and on. Practically every team the Bengals faced got a taste of Cook's long-ball prowess.
In the K.C. game, though, the Bengals' third of the season, he felt something pop in his shoulder. He missed three games and part of a fourth. Then he was back. They had no MRIs then, no arthroscopic surgery. If they had, they would have found a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, and his season would have been over, and surgery would have allowed him to come back.
"I took cortisone shots and played in pain," he says, "but the shoulder hadn't started to deteriorate yet, so I could still function. I still had the strength. I felt obligated to finish the season. I'd gotten off to a good start. I didn't want to relinquish that."
The following year the torn rotator cuff had started to deteriorate. There was also a biceps muscle that had become partially detached, an injury that hadn't yet been diagnosed. There were three operations over the next few years, always with the hope that things would clear up.
"It got to the point that I could lay on the side of the bed," Cook says, "and hang my arm off it, and when I'd try to lift it the shoulder would go out. I'd get sick to my stomach. What's going on?"
He had a three-year guaranteed contract. When that was over, the Bengals, still hopeful that he'd return, extended it for a year, at a reduced salary, then for another. He threw three passes in 1973, four years after he'd originally been hurt. Next year the Chiefs picked him up and then cut him. It was over.
So how did he change the face of NFL football, you ask. Well, in 1970 the Bengals traded with Buffalo for Virgil Carter, a small, active, very heady quarterback originally from the Brigham Young passing factory, a guy who taught math in the offseason at Xavier University. And Walsh designed a system to take advantage of his talents.
A lot of motion. "Swooping and swerving," as Paul Brown called it. A lot of rollouts, underneath throwing, maximum use of backs running horizontal routes off lots of picks. Not entirely gone, but certainly no longer a prime factor, was the deep attack. A year after he joined the team, Carter led the NFL with a 62.2 percent completion rate and an offense was born. It achieved perfection with Joe Montana and the Walsh 49ers.
Walsh termed it "the Cincinnati offense" and got annoyed when people started referring to it as the West Coast offense later on, since that really wasn't its birthplace. But the phrase caught on, and that's what is sweeping the NFL today, with variations, of course.
Once not too long ago I asked Walsh what would his offense have been like if Greg Cook had been his quarterback for 14 or 15 years.
"Completely different," he said. "It would have started with the deep strike, and everything would have played off that. It would have set records that never would be broken.
"Greg Cook," he said nostalgically, his eyes getting a little misty. "What a great, great talent. What a terrible shame."
"Well, I hear that all the time," Cook says now. He still lives in Cincinnati, where he's with an organization called Worksite Information Network, doing motivational work for labor unions. He also does gifting and funding work for charitable institutions.
"It's always other people saying, 'what if,' and 'if only.' Not me. It was tough for four or five years, but I was young. I got over it. I still follow the game. Mike Brown of the Bengals still calls me for my opinion on players and whatever.
"It's never been the case of my thinking, "Gee, I got a bad deal,' or something like that, although at times I've wished that it had been my knee instead of my shoulder. They could fix a knee in those days.
"How many guys do you know who were great successes, but real jerks personally, I mean people you just wouldn't want to be around. Maybe that would have happened to me. Maybe I would have gotten one-dimensional, myopic. Something like what I went through brings you into proper perspective, and maybe you become a better, more balanced person because of it.
"A few years ago I was talking to Anthony Munoz, who was real sad that he'd just retired and was talking about a comeback. I said, 'It'll be toughest in August. You'll smell the burning grass. You'll want to be part of the whole thing again. By your fourth or fifth year, it'll subside.
"Time will take hold."

Year                             Games    Att           Comp        Comp%      Yds               YPA           TD        INT        Rating

1969 11 197 106 53.8 1854 9.41 15 11 88.3
1973 1 3 1 33.3 11 3.67 0 0 45.1
NFL total 12 200 107 53.5 1865 9.33 15 11 87.6

 Rushing           Year                                                Att           Yds                 Avg            TD      Fum

1969 25 148 5.9 1 10
NFL Total 25 148 5.9 1 10


Article originally comes from Sports Illustrated