Special Recognition


Bennett “Pope” Gregory* (2014)

The Big 33 football game is played each summer in Hershey. It always reminds me of the exploits of a former Uniontown Red Raider great in the
1964 game.

Bennett Gregory was nicknamed “Pope” because his name reminded folks of the Holy Father in Rome. Gregory was an outstanding athlete in football, basketball and track for the Red Raiders in the 1960’s.

Gene Steratore  

He was a part of three superb Uniontown football teams. In 1961 the Raiders posted an 8-1 mark in Gregory’s sophomore year; the lone loss to Mt. Lebanon, 21-20.

The 1962 season resulted in a perfect 10-0 record and the WPIAL championship. In Gregory’s senior football season, Uniontown went 7-1-1.

Gregory was a part of two WPIAL and PIAA Championship basketball teams, and one WPIAL Championship football team.

Uniontown defeated Norristown, 70-57 in the 1962 PIAA state championship game. Uniontown ended its miracle run with a 29-2 record.

Uniontown had lost to Bethlehem on Jan. 27, 1962 and the Red Raiders went on to win 36 games in a row before they ran into John Naponick and Norwin in the 1963 WPIAL basketball playoffs.

The loss to Norwin was a bitter pill for the Red Raiders to swallow.
According to former Uniontown standout Stu Lantz, “Ben Gregory and I were walking around the track at Uniontown High School, not long after the Norwin loss.” We had begun working out for track and we saw Coach Abe Everhart standing alone with his head down.
“Everhart was still devastated by the Norwin loss months later. Lantz says he and Gregory approached, knowing what was still bothering him. Without missing a beat, Lantz says, Gregory walked up to Everhart and said, “Don’t worry, Abe. We’ll win in for you next year.”

Gregory’s prophecy came true.

In 1964 Uniontown captured another PIAA State Championship with a 62-51 win over Plymouth-Whitemarsh. The victory capped a perfect 28-0 season for the Red Raiders.

The Raiders got 19 points from Pat Yates, 16 points from Gregory, 13 from Jim Rae and 12 from Lantz in cruising to the win.

“I couldn’t single out any one boy. I thought they all did a good job,” Uniontown Coach Abe Everhart said after the game. “Yates and Rae played their best ball of the tournament and Gregory was a steadying influence.

“Lantz is a better shooter than you saw tonight, but he got the ball off the board and hit two key tip ins for us when we needed them.”
Gregory also excelled on the Uniontown track team. He was a three-year letterman in football, basketball and track. Gregory was named All WPIAL Class AA and Honorable Mention All State in football in 1963 when he rushed for just shy of 1,000 yards and scored 97 points for the Red Raiders.

He was accorded a position on the Pennsylvania Big 33 squad for the match up with the Texas All Stars in Hershey.

Gregory wound up starring in the game, as the Associated Press account of the game describes.

‘Three sensational goal line stands and an 80-yard touchdown run by Uniontown’s Bennett Gregory sparked the Keystone State to a 12-6 triumph Saturday night over Texas in the 1964 Big 33 high school All-Star football game.

Gregory’s sensational fourth quarter touchdown run, the 185- pound speedster took a Texas punt on his own 20-yard line, circled back to the 15, then raced down the left sideline behind a perfect wall of protection as the record throng of 23,251 at the Hershey Stadium roared with approval.

Tackles Greg Shelly of Souderton and George Katzenbach of Philadelphia Roxborough threw the key blocks that sent Gregory on his way.’

“All I could think of was those fast Texas guys chasing me,” the Uniontown star laughed in describing his scoring sprint.
Gregory and Lantz both decided after graduating in 1964 to attend the University of Nebraska.

“Ben Gregory and I had been together through junior high and high school and we wanted to go to the same college,” Lantz explained.
“He was being recruited by the football program at Nebraska and when they came right after the football season ended, we happened to have a basketball game that night. They stayed and watched the basketball game and saw me and went back and reported and the rest became history.

Gregory fashioned a fine career at Nebraska starting out as an outside linebacker/running back and then becoming primarily a fullback for the Cornhuskers. He was on two bowl teams. In 1965 Nebraska was undefeated at 10-0 before losing to Alabama 39-28 in the Orange Bowl.

In the third quarter of that game Gregory was on the receiving end of a 49-yard touchdown pass from Bob Churchich.

In 1966 Nebraska went 9-1 and lost to Alabama 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl. In Gregory’s senior campaign the Cornhuskers posted a 6-4 mark.

Gregory was a two-time All Big Eight Conference selection and finished with a career rushing total of 1,024 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

He also caught 30 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns. Gregory was a fifth round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills after graduating from Nebraska in 1967.

He entered pro football with high hopes as he related to a sportswriter.

‘Ben Gregory hopes to make the name Ernie Davis live again. The late Ernie Davis was a sports idol for young Ben when Gregory was a school boy in their home city of Uniontown, Davis went on to great exploits as a Syracuse All-America, but died before he could bring the great potential to the pro ranks.

‘Gregory matriculated at the University of Nebraska and became the Cornhuskers’ top blocking back. Buffalo grabbed the 6-foot, 220-pounder in the last college draft and immediately measured him for running shoes. Gregory vowed he would carry on in the tradition of Ernie Davis.’

Unfortunately Gregory’s pro career was cut short by a knee injury after he played in six games. His career rushing total in Buffalo – 52 carries for 283 yards and one touchdown. He caught five passes for 21 yards.

The Bills were playing the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl and Gregory took a pitch and rumbled around end. Before the pain be remembers the green, the open field that lay before him if he could beat one man.

The guy made a leg tackle. Gregory spun away, his body twirling while one of his knees stayed still. He corkscrewed. Everything ripped. “It tore my knee to shreds,” he told The Syracuse Post-Standard.
The next year the Bills brought in O.J. Simpson, while Gregory hobbled around the sideline. When it became clear that his football career was finished, Gregory asked the Bills for compensation.
The dispute got ugly. Gregory felt cheated, soured on football. He went back to Nebraska and earned a degree in sociology and then settled with his wife in Denver.

Gregory spent the next few years trying to land a teaching job. In the interim, he drove a truck, worked all sorts of odd jobs to support a wife and their two young children. He fought through depression and spent years asking himself, “Why me? What did I do?”

He drifted away from football and focused on his two children.
He worked as an elementary school teacher from 1974 to ‘82 and never went near a football field. He finally returned to coaching in 1982 as an assistant at Denver East High School from 1982 to ‘86. He was then named head coach at Montebello High School in Denver.
He created a big-play team that won 39 of the 52 games he coached through 1990. Then he was hired by University of Colorado Coach Bill McCartney as running back coach.

Gregory coached 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam.
“This was a high point,” Gregory said at the time. “Sure, he’s a great talent and all that, but to me he’s just a kid – a young person I’ve seen grow. He’s a young man I let cut my grass and wash my car over the summer. That’s how I view him.”

Sadly Gregory passed away from a heart attack on April 10, 1997.
The Ben Gregory award was established in 1998, and is given annually by the Denver Area Football Officials Association to a retired coach who was classy to opponents and officials.


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