For one season, in 1994, I worked with Greg Cook on the Bearcat football radio broadcasts along with Paul Keels.
It was my first of 14 seasons doing a job I grew to cherish and it was Greg Cook's last.
Short-lived. Highs and lows.
Just like the late quarterback's life. The legendary No. 12 sadly left us on Jan. 26 at age 65.
To say I remember Greg Cook's entire career would be a lie because I was only eight-years-old when he was named American Football League rookie of the year for the Bengals in 1969. I do remember the Bengals beating the two best AFL teams that year, the Chiefs with Len Dawson and the Raiders with Daryle Lamonica (coached by John Madden--yeah, the video game guy).
Cook's college career at UC is folklore to a lot of us, but his records at the time were incredible. He threw for 3,272 yards and 25 touchdowns in 1968, including 35-56 for 554 against Ohio University. Those numbers weren't approached until Gino Guidugli and Ben Mauk hit the scene with spread offenses.
Greg Cook was the prototype quarterback before the term was even used. He stood 6-5 and weighed at least 220, had huge hands and could fling a football a country mile. NFL Hall of Famer Paul Brown chose him first in the 1969 draft.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury in his first year cost him his career. He finished the year but was never the same after leading the Bengals to a 3-0 mark with the win over the Chiefs (who would go onto win the Super Bowl).
With today's technology, Cook would've been back better than ever. In 1969, "sports medicine" was an icepack.
Because of that, Cook's career ended in the mid-70s after numerous comeback attempts. Because of that, then-Bengals quarterback coach Bill Walsh developed Virgil Carter and then Ken Anderson, who also should be in the Hall of Fame.
The one quote I'll always remember comes from my prior life in radio when I was producing Cris Collinsworth's "Sportstalk" shows. I prided myself in getting good guests and tracking down people. A random call from Chillicothe (Cook's hometown) got me in contact with Greg in the early 90s and I arranged for him to come to the studio to sit-in with Cris.
I also made a call to Bill Walsh, who had left the 49ers after taking two Super Bowls over the team that wouldn't promote him (passed over for "Tiger" Johnson). Walsh was on NBC with Cris at the time and I got him on in the segment before Cook's appearance.
The late Hall of Fame coach said it to me prior to going on-air and said it on-air to Cris:"He would've been the best ever," Walsh said. "Better than Montana, better than Young."
(Thanks to www.cincinnati.com)
I've remembered that quote for the last 20 years or so. Joe Montana and Steve Young were MVPs and are Hall of Famers. Ken Anderson should be. Walsh coached them all, yet saved those accolades for a guy that basically had one season in the AFL before the merger of the two leagues.
It's evidence enough for me.
Because of that, and remembering being a kid and seeing "Greg Cook No. 12" everywhere in 1969, I asked Cook to do me a favor at our first game in Bloomington, Indiana against the Hoosiers.
In all of my years doing the games, I lived for being on the field before a game soaking it all in and getting information from coaches and players. I also liked picking up a football and displaying what a woeful passer I was (if you don't know, a college football is bigger than you think).
Despite my mediocrity, I wanted Cook to do one thing.
Throw me a pass.
I wanted to tell my kids I caught a pass from Greg Cook. He did and I did and I treasure that reception to this day.
The rest of the year was filled with stories and laughs and observations that honestly shouldn't be shared in this format. Greg Cook lived a colorful life. At one time, he was Cincinnati's "Joe Namath", both in talent and reputation.
Like Joe, Greg had his awkward moments and I know he was dealt a bad hand in life (or a bad shoulder). He had the gift of gab and looks and charm, but what made him stand out, also would harm him.
In my opinion, Greg was the typical talented athlete who rarely heard the word, "no" and wasn't good at knowing "when to say when". I "cast no stone" on him, because like many my age, I've done my share of growing up also. I'm just reporting what I knew and what I saw out of respect.
On the air, he could be brilliant or he could go off on a tangent. He was artsy and intelligent and honestly a lot different than many athletes. He painted, he cooked, he actually brought us a homemade cheesecake the night we had him on the show.
In a way, he was an athletic eccentric. On the road, he was fun. I honestly thought he was going to talk a waitress in Madison, Wisconsin once to come to Cincinnati--the next day! (He had even ordered an extra potato pancake from her to sweeten the pot.)
Another game was at East Carolina and the UC charter plane left from a different spot at Greater Cincinnati airport than normal. As we sat on the runway, pre-cellphone days, nobody knew where Greg was (which really wasn't unusual).
Finally, then-AD Gerald O'Dell gave the nod and the pilot took off for Greenville, North Carolina. The next day it was an early afternoon kick-off, so we were at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium early as the pulled pork pregame scent was floating through the air and East Carolina's seemingly eight-hour pregame show was blaring across the stadium.
No one had yet heard from Greg Cook and the plan was to have a former assistant coach who was in administration at the time, Bruce Ivory, do color with Paul Keels with me on the sideline. As we toted our gear to the highest point of the stadium, the visitor's radio booth, Keels and I looked to midfield.
There he was crossing the 50.
Numerous hours and several coffees later, Greg Cook had driven through the night and found East Carolina. Again, this is pre-GPS or Smartphone. As the story goes, the ex-quarterback was lost a few times but scrambled for positive yardage.
I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he had stopped somewhere for a potato pancake.
At the end of that season, because of a number of reasons, Cook was replaced by Jim Kelly, who had previously done games with Keels. I went on to do 13 more seasons with Jim and he's blessed (and so are you) to have him still onboard for Bearcat games.
Greg Cook, then "morphed" out of sight. We often joked that he just appeared like the guys in the "Star Trek" TV series out of nowhere.
Greg would be "underground" for awhile, then you'd see him at Sunlite Pool smooth-talking the "soccer Moms". Or, he'd resurface at a Bengal function.
Regardless of his situation, he always had a million-dollar smile and a kind word. I can't speak for his behavior beyond what I witnessed. There was part of him that was charismatic, then another part that most of us can't diagnose.
All I know is given today's offenses and medicine, Greg Cook would be enshrined in Canton.
Don't believe me, just read up on Bill Walsh