Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Hall of Fame Center Jim Ringo dead at 75

He played 15 years and had a less than unspectacular two seasons as an NFL head coach. RIP.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jim Ringo, a Hall of Fame center who played 15 seasons for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, died Monday morning after a short illness. He was two days shy of his 76th birthday.

Former Packers teammate Willie Davis said Ringo, who lived in Chesapeake, Va., had been battling Alzheimer’s.

“One minute, you’re reliving an experience,” said Davis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Ringo in 1981. “And the next minute, he’d be asking, ‘Who’s this?’”

The Packers drafted Ringo out of Syracuse in the seventh round in 1953, and he became one of the league’s best centers despite being undersized at just over 200 pounds.

“But what tenacity he had as a center in the NFL,” Davis said. “Probably, no one was better.”

But Ringo turned his relatively small size into an advantage, leading the way on the power sweep that made the Packers’ offense so effective.

“As Vince Lombardi once observed, Jim epitomized the toughness and determination needed to not only play the center position but to become one of the game’s most dominant offensive linemen of his era,” said Steve Perry, president/executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “On behalf of all of us at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Jim’s family.”

Ringo played for Green Bay through 1963, but a contract dispute led Ringo and Lombardi to part ways. According to Packers folklore, Ringo had the audacity to bring an agent with him to negotiate a new contract — and Lombardi traded him to Philadelphia on the spot.

“The story goes that Jim came in with a representative to visit with coach Lombardi about his contract,” Packers historian Lee Remmel said. “Vince excused himself, came back, and said ‘You now are a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.’”

As far as Davis is concerned, the story is true.

“Jim was probably not out of place,” Davis said. “But at that point, Lombardi was not prepared to have an intermediary.”

Agents, of course, now are an accepted part of the today’s game, something Davis said Lombardi would have struggled with.

“I don’t think he’d be a very happy camper,” Davis said.

It wasn’t the first time Ringo didn’t see eye to eye with a Packers coach. In fact, his Hall of Fame career almost was over before it started.

Remmel said that as a rookie in 1953, Ringo decided training camp was too tough and simply walked out one day. Then-coach Gene Ronzani sent one of the team’s scouts all the way to the East Coast to pick him up.

“It’s fortunate that he did, because he went on to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Remmel said.

Ringo played for the Eagles from 1964-67. He was voted to 10 Pro Bowls and was chosen for the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s. He started in a then-record 182 consecutive games from 1954-67.

Ringo later went in to coaching. He replaced Buffalo Bills coach Lou Saban part of the way through the 1976 season, and the Bills lost their last nine games. He returned the following year, and the Bills went 3-11. Ringo was fired after the season and replaced by Chuck Knox.

Ringo’s death comes just a month after the death of former Packers receiver and broadcaster Max McGee, making for a tough couple of weeks in what has otherwise been a joyful season on the field the Packers.

“It does,” Davis said. “While each one kind of has its place, you can’t be oblivious to the McGee and Ringo kind of disasters. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things that that could happen is for the Packers to go on and get into the Super Bowl.”

Ringo’s wife Judy said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1996, and the couple moved to Chesapeake about 10 years ago. He lived at home for much of that time until moving to a treatment unit in nearby Virginia Beach, she said, and he had recently developed penumonia.

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