GREEN BAY, Wis. - Jim Ringo, a Hall of Fame center who played 15 seasons for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, died yesterday after a short illness. He was two days shy of his 76th birthday.
Former Packers teammate Willie Davis said Mr. Ringo, who lived in Chesapeake, Va., had been battling Alzheimer's disease.
The Packers drafted Mr. Ringo out of Syracuse in the seventh round in 1953, and he became one of the league's best centers, despite being undersized at just over 200 pounds.
"But what tenacity he had," said Davis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Mr. Ringo in 1981. "Probably no one was better."
Mr. Ringo turned his relatively small size into an advantage, leading the way on the power sweep that made the Packers' offense so effective.
"As Vince Lombardi once observed, Jim epitomized the toughness and determination needed to not only play the center position but to become one of the game's most dominant offensive linemen of his era," said Steve Perry, president-executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mr. Ringo played for Green Bay through 1963, but a contract dispute led him and Lombardi to part ways. According to Packers folklore, Mr. Ringo had the audacity to bring an agent with him to negotiate a new contract, and Lombardi traded him.
"The story goes that Jim came in with a representative to visit with coach Lombardi about his contract," Packers historian Lee Remmel said. "Vince excused himself, came back, and said, 'You now are a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.' "
"Jim was probably not out of place," Davis said. "But at that point, Lombardi was not prepared to have an intermediary."
It wasn't the first time Mr. Ringo didn't see eye to eye with a Packers coach. In fact, his Hall of Fame career almost was over before it started.
Remmel said that as a rookie in 1953, Mr. Ringo decided training camp was too tough and simply walked out one day. Coach Gene Ronzani sent one of the team's scouts to the East Coast to pick him up.
Mr. Ringo played for the Eagles from 1964 through 1967. He was voted to 10 Pro Bowls and was chosen for the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1960s. He started in 182 consecutive games, then a record, from 1954 to 1967.
After retiring, he became a coach. He replaced Buffalo Bills coach Lou Saban during the 1976 season, and the Bills lost their last nine games. He returned the following year, and the Bills went 3-11. Mr. Ringo was fired after the season and replaced by Chuck Knox.
Mr. Ringo's wife, Judy, said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996, and the couple moved to Chesapeake about 10 years ago. He had recently developed pneumonia.