By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Jim Ringo, a Hall of Fame football center with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles who was among the first professional athletes to use an agent to negotiate contracts, died Nov. 19 at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center in Chesapeake, Va., where he had lived for the past 10 years. He had Alzheimer's disease and died two days before his 76th birthday.
Mr. Ringo played 11 of his 15 seasons in the National Football League with the Packers, anchoring the offensive line during the team's 1961 and 1962 championship seasons under coach Vince Lombardi. He was one of two offensive linemen from the team's dynasty years of the 1960s -- tackle Forrest Gregg was the other -- to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As the center of the five-man interior line, Mr. Ringo called the blocking assignments and snapped the ball to the quarterback. Weighing less than 230 pounds, he was undersize for a lineman, but his quickness, agility and alertness allowed him to dominate much larger players.
He was adept at making slashing cross blocks of opposing defensive tackles, allowing the Packers' guards to lead Hall of Fame running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor on the team's signature sweep plays. Mr. Ringo was also skilled at pass blocking to protect quarterback Bart Starr.
An All-Pro player in 10 of his 15 seasons, Mr. Ringo was named the league's top center seven times and was voted the finest NFL center of the 1960s. By the time he retired in 1967, he had started every game since 1954. His 182 consecutive games were a pro football record at the time.
After the 1963 season, when Mr. Ringo attempted to negotiate a higher salary with the Packers, he unintentionally entered football lore as an object lesson, burnishing the legend of the hard-nosed Lombardi.
According to an oft-repeated tale, Mr. Ringo took an agent to Lombardi's office to ask for a salary of $25,000. Lombardi excused himself, returned after a few minutes and said, "Go talk to the Eagles about it. Mr. Ringo has been traded to Philadelphia."
The episode, however, is "basically fiction," said Lombardi's biographer, David Maraniss, a Washington Post associate editor. In reality, Mr. Ringo and his agent negotiated with the Packers' personnel director, not Lombardi. Moreover, the Packers had been expecting to trade Mr. Ringo to a team near his family on the East Coast.
"The apocryphal story of Ringo's quick exit was perpetuated largely because Lombardi wanted it to be believed," Maraniss wrote.
In any case, Mr. Ringo reportedly never spoke to Lombardi again.
James S. Ringo Jr. was born Nov. 21, 1931, in Orange, N.J., and grew up in Phillipsburg, N.J. After playing at Syracuse University, he was a seventh-round draft choice of the Packers in 1953. He weighed only 211 pounds as a rookie and spent most of his career at about 225 pounds. Today, players at his position typically weigh 300 pounds or more.
Mr. Ringo attributed his success at center to a change in defensive formations, from a five-man to a four-man line.
"The four-man line kept me in pro football," he said in an article in the 1961 Packers yearbook. "If they still had the five-man line with a middle guard playing over my head, I'd probably be doing something else. At my size, I'd never be able to take the pounding."
By one estimate, Mr. Ringo handled the ball 13,000 times during his career, including in more than 1,000 long snaps on kicking plays. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.
After retiring as a player, Mr. Ringo coached for 21 years in the NFL. In 1973, he coached the Buffalo Bills' offensive line, known as the Electric Company, which enabled O.J. Simpson to become the first running back in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards in a season.
Mr. Ringo was the Bills' head coach for 23 games in 1975 and 1976, then worked as an assistant coach for several teams until retiring in 1989. Five players he coached are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His first wife, Betty Ringo, died in 1987. A son, Anthony Ringo, also preceded him in death.
Survivors include his wife of 19 years, Judy Ringo, of Chesapeake; three children from his first marriage, Michelle Wagner of Woodville, N.Y., James S. Ringo III of Elma, N.Y., and Kurt Ringo of West Henrietta, N.Y.; and six grandchildren.