Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown called him "the single most talented player we've ever had with the Bengals." The late Bill Walsh once called him "the best quarterback I ever coached." Former Cincinnati Bengals and University of Cincinnati great Greg Cook passed away today at the age of 65.
Cook was the epitome of the "shooting star" bursting onto the NFL scene in 1969 and quickly becoming one of the most explosive quarterbacks the NFL had ever seen. He had a cannon for a right arm that was also laser accurate. Had he stayed healthy, Bill Walsh once theorized that he might never have developed the "West Coast offense" that Walsh started in Cincinnati as a result of Cook's shoulder injury.
Cook injured his shoulder in only his third game, against the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs whom the Bengals would defeat that day. It turned out to be a torn rotator cuff, but without MRI technology and with orthopedic surgery still rudimentary, Cook's right shoulder eventually became hamburger after trying to play through the injury and unsuccessful surgery. He attempted a comeback in 1973, but couldn't go on.
Despite the injury in 1969, Cook finished the year and was named AFL Rookie of the Year by UPI. His records 17.5 yards per completion still stands as a rookie record. With Cook gone, Walsh turned to Virgil Carter, whose arm was nowhere near as strong as Cook's. Walsh devised an offensive scheme that emphasized a short, crisp passing game to maximize Carter's skills. Thus was born the "Cincinnati offense" which later bloomed in San Francisco with Walsh and Joe Montana.
Cook remained close to the team after his playing career had ended, especially Paul Brown's son, current Bengals' owner Mike Brown. Mike Brown would often consult with Cook on personnel matters and considered him a confidant.
Brown echoed many NFL experts today when he commented that Cook very well might have been the quarterback of his era except for the injury. Before he died, Paul Brown claimed that he would have taken Cook, who was chosen fifth by the Bengals in 1969, over USC's OJ Simpson, the Heisman winner and number one choice by the Buffalo Bills.
Though the sadness of what might have been with Cook's career was spoken by many, it never seemed to get him down. Cook's center, the "original Bengal" Bob Johnson, called Cook a "genuine free spirit" who never let his injury get to him. "He was a pretty happy guy, considering everything."
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