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Greg Cook: What Could Have Been

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Greg Cook
Greg Cook

According to WCPO's Dennis Janson, former Bengals quarterback and University of Cincinnati hall of famer Greg Cook has passed away after being hospitalized for pneumonia. He didn't respond to treatment due to a series of pre-existing conditions.

A source close to the former University of Cincinnati and Bengals quarterback was in the intensive care unit after his health took a turn for the worse Thursday night. His family had gathered Thursday to keep vigil.

Cook broke dozens of passing records at the University of Cincinnati and was scouted and eventually drafted by Cincinnati Bengals founder and head coach Paul Brown with the No. 5 overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft. He became the first rookie quarterback to start the first game of the season, which didn't happen again until 2011, when Andy Dalton started against the Browns in Week 1.

Cook was a rare talent and a natural passer coming out of UC and, with the right coaching, had the potential to be one of the greatest of his time. Cook led the Bengals to three straight wins to start the 1969 Bengals but injured his shoulder in the third game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Backup quarterback Sam Wyche started the next four games, all four losses, before Cook returned in Week 8 to beat the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, after playing to a tie in Week 9, the Bengals lost the rest of their games.

In his rookie season, Cook passed for 1,854 yards for 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, which earned him the AFL Passing Title and he was named the UPI's Offensive Rookie of the Year. His 9.41 yards per passing attempt is the oldest standing Bengals record and the only one still standing from the time they played at Nippert Stadium. The only Bengals quarterback to get close was Boomer Esiason's 9.21 yards per attempt in 1988, when the Bengals went to the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, during the third game of the season, Cook had torn his rotator cuff and due to the limited medical technology at the time, the injury went undiagnosed. Instead of receiving the necessary surgery, he only received cortisone shots which helped the pain but allowed his rotator cuff and his shoulder to deteriorate. He had surgery in the offseason where it was discovered that on top of his rotator cuff being torn and his bicep was partially detached.

Cook said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he felt obligated to finish the season after the team's good start.

"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."

Doctors were unable to repair Cook's shoulder at the time and he sat out of football for the next two seasons. Cook tried to comeback in 1973, but his injuries stopped him from being able to throw the football like he once did. After that, Cook decided to call it quits.

He said in an interview with The Dayton Daily News:

"I may try to lob a few (passes) between now and then, just to see if there's some kind of medical miracle. But I don't expect one. As far as I'm concerned, this is it. It's all over."

During the NFL Network's countdown of their Top-10 One Hit Wonders, they named Greg Cook No. 1. At one point in the video, tight end Bob Trumpy said, "I don't know what he would have done if he played for 10 or 12 years. I think my fingers would be filled with Super Bowl rings."

Bill Walsh, who was the architect of the Bengals offense, which later became the West Coast Offense, believed that the actual offensive scheme would have been different if he had more time to work with Cook.

"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."

In his short time with the Bengals, Cook made such an impact that the Cincy Jungle community actually picked him as the best player in the history of the team to ever wear No. 12 over quarterbacks Neil O'Donnell and Jack Thompson as well as wide receiver and punt returner Quan Cosby.

After retiring, Cook worked for the United Parcel Service and turned to painting, which was a hobby of his.

Cook has struggled with his health recently and the pneumonia that hospitalized him early this week took his life. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in this difficult time and we will always remember one of the potential greats of the Bengals family.

Of his passing, Bengals owner Mike Brown issued the following statement, in which he names Cook the single most talented player to ever wear a Bengals uniform.

"Greg was the single most talented player we’ve ever had with the Bengals," said Bengals president Mike Brown. "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.

"Greg was a personal friend to me," Brown added. "He was a good person whose company I enjoyed over all his years as a player and after that. I feel a great loss at his passing."

Greg Cook was 65 years old.