By the time he died on Jan. 26, Fred Forsberg was no longer six-plus feet of unfiltered ferocity. His knees were shot. His memory was muddled. His body was irreparably busted, mangled by the love of an unmerciful game.
“You name a health issue, and he probably had it going on,” his son, Jeff Forsberg, told The Times this week.
Forsberg — who his Husky teammates lovingly called “Fantastic Freddie” — died at age 76, primarily of heart failure.
The same heart never failed him on a football field.
“He was unique — just a larger-than-life character, out of a comic book almost,” said Jeff, who added that his father’s death was not COVID-related. “He was tough as nails. Just loved — loved — the game. He had tons of health problems later on in life, mostly caused by the game. His last three years, there was memory loss. We don’t know if it was CTE or not, but that type of stuff was going on with him where his short-term memory was shot. His knees, he could barely walk. In terms of health problems, it’s amazing he lived as long as he did.
“But I don’t think he would have changed a thing. He just loved hitting people.”
Fred Forsberg made a living doing what he loved. He was born on the Fourth of July in 1944 and starred at Wilson High School in Tacoma, before accepting a football scholarship to the University of Washington in 1962. There, the undersized 6-foot-1, 225-pound defensive tackle developed into a three-year starter, helped the Huskies to a Rose Bowl in 1963 and later participated in the East-West Shrine, Hula and Coaches All-American all-star games.
Most notably, Forsberg amassed 14 tackles in a 28-21 win over Oregon State on Nov. 13, 1965, “and was credited with almost single-handedly stopping two Beaver drives deep in Husky territory,” according to The Seattle Times.
“I would rank Forsberg as the top of any defensive tackles in the country this season,” UW head coach Jim Owens told The Times on Nov. 19, 1965.
Added defensive assistant Tom Tipps: “Fred can play across the line and meet and beat any offensive lineman in the country.”
In the same story, Times reporter Bob Schwarzmann wrote that “Forsberg has the stuff of which professionals are made. He is exceptionally fast and quick. He revels in rugged physical contact.”
Or, as his son would someday say: Fred Forsberg just loved hitting people.
He did so for six blissfully brutal AFL/NFL seasons, after beginning his career with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. Forsberg — who was converted to linebacker at the professional level — spent most of five seasons with the Denver Broncos, before closing his career with stints in Buffalo and San Diego. And in an era where knockout shots were unabashedly encouraged, he told the P-I in 2008 that “I put a lot of guys to sleep.”
On a football field, Fred Forsberg was a nearly unparalleled punisher.
But the man was so much more than a battering ram.
“On the flip side, he had this booming laugh — this fun-loving nature,” Jeff Forsberg said. “He loved life, loved people. My take from (people) knowing him when he was younger is that he was kind of a bully, but I never saw that. I think he was just a bully to people who took themselves too seriously. He was gregarious and really loving to everybody.”
After a knee injury ended his football career in 1974, Fred devoted his life to his other loves: his wife, Kaye, to whom he was married for 54 years; his children, Jeff and Robin; his grandchildren, Travis, Zach, Kate, Gannon, and Calvin; skiing; the Rolling Stones; trips to Lake Chelan; and of course, his alma mater.
“Once you’re a Husky, you’re a lifelong Husky,” Jeff said. “My dad’s nature wasn’t to go to all the games. But he would go to one or two games a year, and he would watch every game for sure. He hated (Rick) Neuheisel, but he loved Jimmy (Lambright) because Jimmy was one of his teammates.”
Fred Forsberg and his family settled in Sammamish, where he sold chemicals for the NCH corporation for nearly 35 years.
He left the game. But it never left him.
“None of my kids were football players,” said Jeff, who owns a commercial real estate firm in the Seattle area. “I played football, but I was nowhere near as tough or as good as he was, which was hard. I remember growing up and I internally felt the pressure of being the son of a pro football player, but he never put that pressure on me. He just didn’t do that with his kids. But he would tell us stories.
“I remember him trying to show my little 4-year-old how to hit people in the neck, weird stuff like that. He was different. It’s hard to say, but he was just old-school — getting in fights, getting bloody, all that stuff. He just loved it.”
He loved an ultra-gladiatorial era of the game that is long since gone. But he also loved his teammates.
And his teammates loved him.
“Another thing with him passing is I would call up some of his old football player friends,” Jeff said. “These are old guys who played in the ‘60s and ‘70s and are tough as nails. I’d call some of them and tell them dad passed, and they’d just start bawling. He was a good guy.”
So, farewell to a good guy, a family man and a fearless enforcer.
“Fantastic Freddie” was all of the above.