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And Gregg suffered countless concussions during his college and pro seasons.
"One time in college, I went over to the other team's bench," Gregg recalled. "I woke up with an ice pack on the back of my neck and I said, `What's going on?' They said, `You've been gone for a while.' So that's what I know about concussions. That's what I know about getting hit."
Kumar said Gregg's many concussions may very well have served as a trigger for Parkinson's.
"We know that prior head injury also increases the risk of getting dementia or Alzheimer's disease and increasingly there's a recognition players who have played in the NFL who have had prior head injuries -- which is just about everybody -- have a substantially increased risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. We don't know if that also applies to Parkinson's, but my guess is that it probably does," Kumar said.
Kumar, who said he's also diagnosed another former NFL player with Parkinson's, praised the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits to the head and new protocol on concussions.
Gregg said he would still have chosen to play the sport even if he'd known there would be a price to pay later in life.
"It might have caused me to shorten my career. But I don't know what I would have done differently," Gregg said.
A guard and tackle, Gregg is one of three NFL players to win a-half dozen NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls with the Packers. Gregg finished his career with another Super Bowl title with the Cowboys in 1971.
He went on to coach the Bengals, Browns and Packers, compiling a record of 75-85-1. He led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl after the 1981 season, where the Bengals lost to San Francisco 26-21.
Although his motor symptoms began to show up over the last year or two, Gregg's wife, Barbara, said he began acting out his dreams about 15 years ago. Kumar said this phenomenon, known as REM sleep behavior disorder, was a possible early warning sign of Parkinson's.
One time he dreamed he was trying to strangle a snake and his wife had to sock him to get him to let go of her wrist. Another time he dreamt he was back blocking for Bart Starr and knocked her out of their bed.
"It would be like he was playing football. It was awful. And one time he grabbed my wrist and it was bad. I thought he was going to kill me and I had to say, `Stop, you idiot!' You know, anything I can say to make him stop, and finally I learned to sock him back," Barbara Gregg said.
Gregg is on two medications, one to help him with the motor symptoms of Parkinson's and possibly slow the progression of the disease and another drug to treat his abnormal sleep behavior.
Gregg still keeps a busy travel schedule, doing autograph shows and speeches.
Also on his agenda now is speaking out about Parkinson's.
"I think the first thing is probably try to learn as much as you can about the disease. That way if it happens to you, there are no surprises," Gregg said. "I think there are things that can be done to slow this disease down and I think that's one of the biggest things I'm thankful for."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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