The Kansas City Chiefs are hellbent on revenge this Sunday, but once upon a time, they ruined the Cincinnati Bengals’ future with Greg Cook.
Once, there was a man named Greg Cook.
But only the diehards of the diehards know who Cook was. You can thank the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 1969, the Cincinnati Bengals were a second-year franchise in the American Football League. In that year’s draft, they selected the local legend in Cook, a quarterback at the University of Cincinnati with the fifth-overall pick.
Cook immediately started and shined. As a rookie, Cook led the pass-happy AFL in passer rating (88.3), yards per attempt (9.4) and yards per completion (17.5). He also won Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Yet in his third career start, tragedy struck. Playing against the Chiefs, Cook was hit by Pro Bowl linebacker Jim Lynch and sustained a torn rotator cuff. Clean hit, terrible result. Due to the time period, Cook wasn’t operated on. He was injected to relieve the pain.
Despite it all, Cook was an instant star on a team of nobodies and cast-offs.
However, after the season, Cook underwent the first of many shoulder surgeries. He didn’t play another game for three years before attempting a comeback in 1973. That year, he suited up for 12 games, saw action in one, and threw three passes. Career over.
While Cook is unfortunately far from the only NFL player to have dreams dashed by a career cut short, he might be the greatest talent who got robbed of showcasing his skills.
Upon his passing at 65 years old in 2012, Bengals owner Mike Brown released the following statement, reading in part:
“Greg was the single most talented player we’ve ever had with the Bengals. His career was tragically short due to the injury. Had he been able to stay healthy, I believe he would have been the player of his era in the NFL.”
NFL Films released a fantastic 13-minute piece on Cook’s lost greatness in 2013, which included comments such as former Bengals tight end Bob Trumpy stating Cook is, in his opinion, the most-talented quarterback to ever play.
Bill Walsh, who was Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator — where he created the West Coast Offense — before winning three Super Bowls for the San Francisco 49ers, went even further.
“Greg Cook was, I believe, the greatest talent ever to play the position,” Walsh said. “He could play today or any time in the history of the NFL. While he played, he was the best there was.”
Sam Wyche, who backed up Cook before becoming Cincinnati’s head coach from 1984-91, had similar thoughts, per NFL.com:
“I think Greg Cook would have been mentioned, had he had a full career, with the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league. He had everything. He had size, a rifle arm, he had a Terry Bradshaw kind or [sic] release. … He had running ability, he was good-looking. He would have had the endorsements.”
Over time, Cook has long been forgotten by most. Although that’s not entirely true.
To be forgotten, you must first be known.
Greg Cook is known by so few in the modern age, with so little footage of his playing days being on record. The numbers of those who coached or played alongside him are dwindling, leaving only scattered articles and vignettes of what once was.
Still, Cook existed. He flourished. He then disappeared, a victim of his time.