He was dominant and he was humble. And certainly a case could be made that Herb Gray — who passed away last Friday at the age of 76 — was the greatest defensive lineman in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history.
A member of the Winnipeg Football Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the University of Texas Longhorn Hall of Honor, Gray came north from his home state of Texas in 1956 after the Bombers offered him more money than the NFL team which had drafted him, the Baltimore Colts.
Gray would wear Bomber colours for 10 seasons from 1956-65 and anchor a defence that was critical to the franchise’s four Grey-Cup championships over that span. A defensive captain for nine of his 10 years with the Bombers, Gray was a West-Division All-Star defensive end six times, a West-Division All-Star guard in 1965 and was voted the CFL’s top lineman in 1960 — the first defensive player to capture the honour.
In 1980 he was named the Bombers’ top defensive player of the half century and was one of 20 players selected to the All-Time team in 2006 in the club’s 75th anniversary season.
Gray wasn’t the boastful type and his humility is what many are remembering him for today as much as his playing exploits. After retiring from football and returning to Texas — he was born in Goosecreek, Tex. — Gray worked for the Alamo Cement Company in San Antonio. Later upon his departure from the work force, Gray would spend much of his time fishing at his retirement home on the Guadalupe River.
But rarely, if ever, would Gray regale about his many accomplishments on the football field.
"A lot of people who played football could never stop talking about it," Maureen, Gray’s wife since 1980, told The Houston Chronicle. "But you had to really drag it out of him."
His son Steve admitted that as a six-year-old going out to dinner with his family during Gray’s playing days in Winnipeg he never really understood why so many strangers would seek out his father’s autograph.
"Years later, I understood," Gray told The Chronicle.
"You don’t forget somebody like Herb Gray," added Delano Womack, a Texas teammate of Gray’s who will speak at his memorial service Wednesday afternoon in San Antonio. "He was a wonderful player and a wonderful man."