The Hammer Guy: Ex-UW Safety Greg Grimes Reveled In, Paid for Punishing Times
They carried a Washington State player off the field because of him. A San Jose State player had trouble getting to his feet after their encounter. USC's great running back Charles White never saw him coming and was left crumpled on the ground.
Chances are, if you met Greg Grimes on the football field back in the late 1970s, you didn't forget him. You felt pain.
A starting University of Washington strong safety for most of three seasons, Grimes was the first in a long line of overly enthusiastic head-hunters on the back row for legendary coach Don James and beyond.
"Greg was probably the grandfather of the hammer guys," said former Husky running back Vince Coby, naming Lawyer Milloy and Tony Parrish as others topping this lineage. "He could lay some wood."
Today, Grimes is retired and living in Sacramento, still thinking he could have hit more people and probably willing to run out on the football field once more if they would let him.
Since leaving the UW following a 14-7 victory over Texas in the 1979 Sun Bowl, he played in the Canadian Football League for the Ottawa Rough Riders and had NFL tryouts with the Seattle Seahawks and the Buffalo Bills.
Grimes coached football at Sonoma State. He got into real estate and served as an alcohol and drug counselor. He became a proud dad.
He was responsible for bringing another Greg Grimes to the college game. He sent his 6-foot-1, 283-pound son named for him to Boise State to become a starting defensive tackle for a coach named Chris Petersen, playing from 2009 to 2012.
"I went to a lot of games and I loved it because it was big time, just like Petersen," the senior Grimes said. "I let him do the coaching. I was happy because he was a very successful person doing what he did."
Grimes originally came out of Bakersfield, California, and turned down Oklahoma, Colorado and a host of others to play for James and the Huskies. The 6-1, 200-pounder was unusually strong for a secondary player, bench-pressing 400 pounds. He had plenty of attitude, too.
He patterned his aggressive style after Jack Tatum, the fearsome safety who was known as "the Assassin" when he played for the Oakland Raiders.
"I learned how to hit because I watched Jack Tatum," he said. "I loved the way he had command of the field."
For the most part, Grimes' time in Seattle went well. With one notable drawback: He and James didn't end on the best of terms.
The safety had a no tolerance for being disrespected. It served him well on game day, but not so much in the locker room.
He dressed for practice in an area filled with skill-position players that they labeled "the Ghetto." He brawled with two Husky offensive linemen after he was called the N-word before the 1978 UW-Alabama game.
While the racial slur was considered a serious offense, Grimes' method for settling the dispute drew him a rebuke. He continued to hear the disparaging word and called out a teammate who wouldn't support him in stopping it. He was told to apologize. Grimes refused and packed his things. Assistant coaches talked him out of leaving, but he offered no words of contrition.
"Me and coach James didn't have a good relationship because of friction in the locker room," he said. "This one offensive lineman called me the N-word. I did what I had to do. I knocked him to the ground. Nobody calls me that name."
Led to believe he was a high draft pick, Grimes went undrafted in 1980. He'd been a starter for Rose Bowl and Sun Bowl winners. He was convinced that word was circulated that he was hard to handle. He certainly didn't lack for confidence.
"I was the most feared football player in the country," he said. "I was aggressive. When I ran to a play, I was going to hit someone."
The Seahawks brought him to camp. Newspaper accounts showed him making a lot of progress. He came up with two interceptions during one scrimmage. He got released in the middle of the night.
Grimes played for Ottawa in the CFL in 1981 and did well. His performance earned him another NFL shot with Buffalo and Chuck Knox. Again, they let him go and he walked away from football.
He always thought there just one Greg Grimes, that no one could compare to him. Once he had his son, he acknowledged there were two. Disturbingly, he found out there was one more.
Boarding a Mexican cruise nearly 20 years go, Grimes ended up in handcuffs following a background check. He had warrants out for his arrest. He was incredulous. He had no history of law-breaking. Once detained as a Bakersfield teen, officers asked for his autograph when learning who he was. He had once rushed for 220 yards by halftime in a local football game.
A deep dive into the cruise-ship situation stunningly found that former Husky teammate and fellow defensive back Lance Theoudele had stolen and used his identity for 27 years.
A one-time starting cornerback alongside Grimes, Theoudele had accumulated more than five-dozen arrests with a third of those offenses resulting in convictions. He took out credit cards.
Fingerprints showed exactly who was who. An easier way would have been to have the real Grimes and the imposter each line up and hit somebody.
There would have been no comparison to who was Greg Grimes.
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