Recently I’ve seen some polls and chatter across the worldwide web about the Ravens most underrated player. For my money, that’s a two-horse race – Kelly Gregg and Jarret Johnson. Gregg gets the edge yet both were big contributors to some great defenses.
A couple of years ago I chatted with both Gregg and Johnson. Those conversations have aged well and as you’ll see, not only were they fun, they remain timeless.
Tony Lombardi: When I think back on your career in Baltimore, the first thing that I think of is you sacking Michael Vick, followed by your celebratory dance.
Kelly Gregg: Ah, you know every dog finds a bone once in a while. We were always worried about him running. Every time we played him, we were going to come after him. We weren’t going to sit back there. I just had to take that shot. Luckily, I got my meat hook on him and flung him to the ground. I probably couldn’t tackle him in a phone booth [but] luckily he really didn’t see me coming.
That was a fun one. I get that a lot. I always remember that play because he was hard to catch. Plus, he was a crook!
TL: During your nine seasons in Baltimore, you registered 19 ½ sacks. Do any one of those other 18 ½ sacks stand out most in your mind?
KG: I tell you the guy I got the most, and the guy we had the most trouble with, I think I could be wrong, but I think I had Peyton like 3, 3 ½ times. We were playing in the dome in Indianapolis and it wasn’t a playoff game. It was a regular season game. I was telling my little league – my son plays little league and I help out, and they asked, what’s the hardest hit I ever got. And I hit Peyton as hard as I ever hit anybody throughout high school, college…and I thought, there’s no way he’s getting up. I ran right through him. And he got up.
He was tough as nails. You know, one of the best quarterbacks of all time would be the guy I ended up sacking the most. Every once in a while I’d fall into a sack or two, but yeah, I say Peyton, I couldn’t believe that I got him the most in my whole career.
TL: Having that as an accomplishment, given how quickly Peyton got the ball out with those quick feet and his quick release, it’s almost like his offensive linemen, when they left Indianapolis to sign big contracts elsewhere, they found out that they had to maintain their blocks a lot longer than when Peyton was back there.
KG: He made a lot of guys – guys who couldn’t play dead look like they were good players. That’s what good players do, they elevate you. He was our nemesis there and he was a great player. And every once in a while he’d take it like a man. [Sometimes] you’d get close to him and he didn’t want to get hit so he’d fall down and there would be a mad rush – the first one that could tag him got that sack (laughter).
TL: Another career stat, again in your nine seasons with the Ravens, you had 357 solo tackles and a total of 509 tackles. Comparatively speaking, 5-time Pro Bowler, 2-time All Pro, Casey Hampton in 12 seasons with the Steelers, had 208 solo tackles, 373 total. Now that’s 45% less productivity than you, yet you never had Pro Bowl status which I can tell you still sticks in the craw of Ravens fans. How do you feel about that looking back?
KG: It would have been nice. I thought a couple of years, well, maybe. But you know that’s just the way it goes. I was taught at an early age if you’re not the biggest guy at defensive tackle, and I never really was. I couldn’t pass the eye test. You had to be productive. You had to make plays. You obviously had to play within the system. Sometimes big guys can get away with not being very productive, they just clog a hole. But my whole thing was that I’ve got to be quick and try to make plays but also plug the hole. But I never really was a guy – you know don’t get me wrong. That’s a big time honor, but I was never a guy who was out there politicking for votes and that. I just enjoyed playing the game and that was one thing I got a kick out of. But I would always enjoy, if we would be playing Casey Hampton and the Steelers, I’d always enjoy my name being called a lot more than his, and I’m making plays and everything.
It just never fell my way with the vote or anything like that, but you know it wouldn’t keep me up at night. But it would have been nice to be recognized. But I just love going out there and playing and being productive. Because I wasn’t the biggest guy. I wasn’t going to walk into the room and they’d be like, “Oo, look at this pretty defensive tackle” or anything like that. I was a guy who just had to be productive and try to make plays.
TL: Bart Scott once told me – and you may remember when we had you down to his show in 2007, that you were the glue. That the Baltimore Ravens defense at that time stopped and started with Kelly Gregg. Now that’s high praise considering some of the guys that both you and Bart played with. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister – talk about those players. You played with a lot of great players. Who in your opinion was the best?
KG: You mentioned Chris McAlister. He was a guy who could run the streets at night and show up and shut down a bunch of guys. It’s hard to say who was the best but, at different levels, all of those guys you mentioned. You know they were fabulous players, great dudes. Haloti was great. It was just great playing with all those dudes but if I had to pick one, I always thought Chris McAlister.
I always thought that he was going to be like Rod Woodson. Play corner for all of those years and then go to safety. Maybe the night life caught up with him – maybe injuries too. But I always thought that Chris could do anything. I thought – any sport, Chris could have played. I just thought McAlister was that guy from an athletic standpoint. He just got a little too wild there in the nightlife.
TL: It is a shame. Had Chris taken the game a little more seriously, we might be talking about him as a future Hall of Famer.
KG: Definitely. You know sometimes those guys, that’s why I kept my nose clean and to the grindstone. I was never the greatest athlete. Some of those guys, when it comes easy to them, it gets away from them there. You’re making a lot of money and stuff like that. All of those guys. That’s why Ray and Ed, Bart, they were such good players – students of the game and they took it seriously. I would have loved to see Chris move to safety. He would have been fabulous.
Part II of the Kelly Gregg series will be posted on July 7, 2020