Fred Forsberg (1944-2021) Might Have Been the Hardest-Hitting Husky Ever

The UW's legendary football player passed away on Monday. He won't be forgotten as a tough guy or a fun-loving character.
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Fred Forsberg liked to tuck people in at night. 

During the middle of the day. 

All over college and NFL football fields.

"I put a lot of guys to sleep," Fred said back in 2008.

Pillows and blankets were not involved.

It was all Forsberg all the time, crashing into people with reckless abandon, turning out the lights, making everyone remember these meetings. Or not.

He took toughness to a different level for the University of Washington and three pro football teams.

By his estimation, he served up 20 concussions to opposing players.

Good night, everybody.

Forsberg, 77, passed away on Monday in the Seattle area from multiple illnesses not related to COVID-19.

He left behind endearing memories that collided with each other like Forsberg and one of those unlucky opponents.

He was fearsome and funny.

Scary and satirical.

Mischievous and murderous.

"His nickname was 'Fantastic Freddie' and he was fantastic because of how much fun he was to be around," said Ron Medved, a friend going back to their high school days, a Husky teammate and a Philadelphia Eagles defensive back. "He was super fun-loving, playful and he liked to laugh. He sort of outgrew being that sort of bully."

Ah, but it served him well on the football field. 

The son of a Tacoma firefighter, Forsberg endeared himself right away to tough-minded Husky coach Jim Owens. He thrived in position challenges that opened each practice, going one-on-one with someone while surrounded by screaming teammates. 

As a sophomore in 1963, he won a couple of single-platoon starts as a somewhat undersized two-way lineman, in a season capped off by a Rose Bowl against Illinois and another reputed tough guy, Dick Butkus.

Forsberg made a name for himself as a 6-foot-1, 235-pound defensive tackle, notably in 1964 for one of the nation's top run-stopping defenses. The Huskies, limiting opponents to 73.9 yards per game, that season held Washington State to 7 yards rushing, Oregon to 11, UCLA to 51 and Baylor to 54.

In 1965, he came up with an amazing 14 tackles as a down lineman in a game against Oregon State and earned conference player of the week honors. He appeared in three college all-star outings: the East-West Shrine, Hula and Coaches All-American games. 

Fred Forsberg played five seasons for the Denver Broncos.

Fred Forsberg played five seasons for the Denver Broncos.

Forsberg played a season in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders before joining the NFL and the Denver Broncos for five seasons and the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers for a season each. 

He made no excuses for how aggressively he approached the game. The only difference was he was now a head-hunting linebacker at the pro football level.

"I tried to hurt people," Forsberg said. "Most good defensive teams have to have a couple of guys who want to hurt people. I tried to throw the switch and go out and whack somebody."

Playing alongside the equally zany Lyle Alzado and Richard "Tombstone" Jackson, Forsberg shattered facemasks, helmets and people. He recalls leveling a Cincinnati Bengals kick-returner named Charles "Monk" Williams, leaving him unconscious with a broken collarbone and a broken leg. Williams never played in the NFL again.

He was tough on everybody with no exceptions, even former UW teammate and close friend Bo Cornell, another notable tough guy who played in the NFL.

"I got a 15-yard penalty against Cleveland for grabbing Cornell by the facemask and pulling him off his feet," he said. 

Showing off his athleticism, Forsberg intercepted five passes in his NFL career, returning one 40 yards for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in 1971. He also was a wedge-buster on special teams. 

His football career ended abruptly with the Chargers in 1974 when he was hit from the side and tore up a knee while covering a punt. His San Diego teammates were really sad to see this wild man go. He gave them yellow T-shirts sporting his likeness wearing a "Superfly" hat and emblazoned with the words "Fantastic Freddie."

He became a salesman of chemicals and industrial lubricants, married to the same woman for 55 years and a doting grandfather. Yet he always had that gleam in his eye, a nonstop belly laugh.

"I've always been a little different, but I have a good sense of humor," Forsberg said. "I enjoy life. I try to get a couple of hours of laughing in every day."

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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