I had a lot of amazing experiences as a kid and have written about them on this site quite a bit. I was lucky enough to have a father, and several uncles, who were into sports and they took myself and my cousins to games all the time. We’d load up and head to Cincinnati to see the Reds, Bengals and Royals (the old NBA team), to Columbus to watch Ohio State basketball and football games, Columbus Checkers hockey games, and even make the journey to Cleveland for the occasional Browns or Indians game.
We almost always had good tickets, for between Dad and my uncle Myrl we had the connections to make it happen. Myrl was state Rep. (and later Lt. Gov.), who obtained tickets through political channels, and my Dad was purchasing manager at Mead Corporation, a prominent paper company in our area. Dad’s job required buying anything and everything the company required, so as you can imagine salesmen were always bombarding him with gifts to sway his decisions. This was before the ethics laws tightened up, thank God. Anyway, great tickets.
My family had a pretty intense interest in sports and our traditional Thanksgiving weekend basketball games were legendary. There was no such thing as “friendly” competition and after one particularly spirited game featuring some broken ribs, a black eye, some shattered eyeglasses and what might have been a ruptured spleen, Aunt Dorothy put a stop to it. After all, we were aged mid-20s and upwards at that point so it seemed like the prudent thing to do.
But back to high school. Most of us were pretty good athletes, and some were better than good. Among these were Mick Shoemaker, a first-team All-Ohioan in basketball, baseball and football who went on the receive a D1 scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, and John Shoemaker, a terrific athlete who played basketball at Miami of Ohio, was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but chose to play baseball after being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were many others from back then (let’s not forget Mark Litter, a first-team All-American middle linebacker football player) and plenty of others, way too many to mention (sorry Mike, Todd, Lisa, etc.).
However, without a doubt the best of all was Greg Cook. Greg was the nephew of my Aunt Dorothy, which technically made him not my cousin, although he always called me Cousin Dave and even signed a football and sweatshirt in that fashion. Heck, he probably thought I was his cousin because I was always with his cousins — Keith, Kevin, Brenda, Mick and Deb.
Anyway, Greg played football at Chillicothe, then at the University of Cincinnati, and finally for the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the first round of the 1969 draft. Because of Greg all of us got to go into the locker room after games, where we got to meet a lot of famous players. I remember meeting guys like Joe Namath, Daryl Lamonica and even OJ Simpson. Pretty big deal for a 13-year-old kid as you might imagine.
Bottom line, Greg was really good and a big deal at the time. He was even selected as the NFL Rookie of the Year. Coach Bill Walsh, once while talking to NFL Films, said Greg “threw, by far, the best deep ball of any quarterback I ever saw.” Walsh called him “A combination of Terry Bradshaw’s size and strength with Joe Montana’s instincts and feel for the game.”
Keep in mind that Bill Walsh coached the Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana, kids.
But while going to games, getting great seats, and going to the locker room were all great, those aren’t my favorite memories of Greg Cook. What I remember are the days when he’d come to visit my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Myrl.
It was always during the offseason, of course, and if I wasn’t already at the house (like I said, I practically lived there), somebody would call me with the news: “Greg’s coming. Get up here.”
And up there I would get, as fast as my 1966 Schwinn Stingray bike with the banana seat, rear slick and sissy bar would take me.
Some days Greg would just sit and watch TV while I would cast furtive glances his way, amazed that a famous NFL quarterback was watching the Reds-Dodgers game with us. But on other, even more special days, he’d ask us if we all wanted to go outside to run through some passing drills with him.
Of course we did, and we just happened to have a few footballs at the ready for that very thing.
Sometimes we’d go out behind the old Twin Elementary School (right beside the house), other times we’d all pile in Uncle Myrl’s pickup truck and head to our local high school, Paint Valley, where we’d actually play on the field there. Cousin Mike was the high school coach there at the time so we were good to go.
I’ll never forget Greg’s workouts with us. To begin, the man with the strongest arm in the NFL would get on one knee at the 10-yard line, instruct my cousins and I on which routes to run, and begin zipping passes to us. After 20-30 throws he’d move back to the 20, then the 30, and continue on until he was on the 50-yard line, firing passes to us, all the time while on one knee.
So yeah, strong arm.
Those were great days for a Bourneville kid, man, running routes and catching footballs from an NFL quarterback.
Sadly, Greg’s career was cut short due to a rotator cuff injury, an injury that went untreated for too long and, incredibly, could be fixed rather easily by today’s doctors.
Although he went on to be a motivational speaker and continue a lifelong love of painting, Greg was always remembered as the player whose greatness was cut short by injury, a name that begs the question “what might have been.”
Greg died in 2012, and he was only 65. His life, like his career, cut short.
But for me, it’s not only watching him play in Nippert Stadium and Riverfront Coliseum that I remember, it’s those days behind Twin School or on the Paint Valley H.S. field, long blonde hair blowing in the breeze, smiling as he rifled those passes to a few of his lucky little cousins.
Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/.