Jim Ringo, the man who put together the Buffalo Bills' famed Electric Company line and later was the team's head coach, died Monday morning in Virginia Beach, Va. He would have been 76 on Wednesday.
A Hall of Fame center himself with championship Green Bay Packers teams in the early 1960s, Ringo was a master of the art of offensive line play in the National Football League.
"He was incredible. He made everybody better," said former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure, one of four linemen coached by Ringo who made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame if it is wasn't for Jim Ringo," said DeLamielleure.
Other Hall of Famers Ringo coached were guard John Hannah of the New England Patriots, tackle Jackie Slater with the Los Angeles Rams and, for a brief time, tackle Ron Yary when he was closing out his carer with the Los Angeles Rams.
Ringo was tough and resilient both as a player and coach, but beloved by the men he led. Away from the fraternity of offensive linemen, he was reserved and so modest that he never wore his Hall of Fame ring. Instead, he kept it on a key chain in his pocket.
"A lot of guys are going to be shaken up when they find out," said DeLamielleure, who already had spoken to former Electric Company linemate Reggie McKenzie and Hannah.
Ringo once started 182 straight games at center for the the Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. At the time it was a league record.
While coaching the Bills in a game at Indianapolis in 1987, Ringo suffered a broken leg when he was run over on the sideline during the opening kickoff. Ringo refused to leave his post and coached the rest of the game with a temporary splint cast on his leg.
"He wouldn't let us X-ray him until after the game. He just took some pain killer and kept on coaching," recalled former Bills trainer Ed Abramoski.
Ringo coached one more year before retiring to his home in Findley Lake in Chautauqua County after the 1988 season.
As a coach, Ringo gained his greatest fame for building and coaching the offensive line that blocked for O.J. Simpson in his 2,003-yard season in 1973. Tackles Dave Foley and Donnie Green, guards DeLamielleure and McKenzie and center Mike Montler made up one of pro football's most famed blocking unit.
Ringo began his coaching career with the Chicago Bears in 1969. Lou Saban brought him to Buffalo in 1972. In the 1974, Ringo concocted an unbalanced line formation to surprise the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite Saban's misgivings, it worked. Buffalo confused the Steelers' famed Iron Curtain defense and won, 30-21, at Three Rivers Stadium. When Saban suddenly resigned in the middle of the 1976 season, Ringo took over as head coach -- with disastrous results. The Bills lost quarterback Joe Ferguson to a back injury and did not win a game under Ringo and were only 3-11 with him in 1977 when Simpson suffered a knee injury in an embarrassing 56-17 loss to the expansion Seahawks in Seattle. The next week the Bills regrouped and upset the Patriots in Foxborough, 24-14.
Ringo was fired and replaced by Chuck Knox after the season. He went on to coach the line at New England (1978-81), Los Angeles Rams (1982) and New York Jets (1983-84) before Kay Stephenson brought him back to Buffalo in 1985. He stayed after Marv Levy took over in 1986 and served as offensive coordinator.
Ringo played center at Syracuse University for coach Ben Schwartzwalder and was drafted in the seventh round in 1953 by Green Bay. At 200 pounds, he was undersized for a center, even then, but he went on to make All-NFL seven times and play in 10 Pro Bowls.
"What tenacity he had as a center in the NFL," said former Packers defensive end Willie Davis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Ringo in 1981.
Ringo's wife Judy said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1996, and the couple moved to Chesapeake, Va., about 10 years ago. He lived at home for much of that time until moving to a treatment unit in nearby Virginia Beach, she said, and he had recently developed pneumonia.
Calling hours will be held at Rupell Funeral Home in Phillipsburg, N.J., across the street from Phillipsburg High School where Ringo graduated. Final funeral arrangements were pending.
The Associated press contributed to this report.