It hit me after logging into Pigskin Pick’em and seeing a goose egg next to the entry for RAIDER NATION #1 that Brian Gregory was no longer with us. He had made his final NFL picks.
Brian, known to many on the island as a ‘gentle giant’, was an original member of the Daily Mirror Pigskin Pick’em group I created on the ESPN platform way back when. As members left and new players joined, Brian remained a constant in the 17-week battle for supremacy. There is no money on the line, just bragging rights for the champion. I’m sure Brian won a few times, but I don’t recall, and I also can not scroll back to look as ESPN only has league data from 2019. He finished third that year.
He was making a late-season push for this year’s title when the unthinkable happened — news that rocked the island and still has people in disbelief. On Dec. 6 — the Sunday of Week 13 in the NFL season — Brian, 52, died at his Kodiak home. Oh, how he would have loved Week 13 as his Raiders pulled off the most stunning of wins when Derek Carr connected with Henry Ruggs III for a game-winning 46-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left. Maybe he was there above New York guiding the Raiders to an incredible comeback over the Jets. He picked nine games correctly that week. The Raiders being one of the nine.
Brian’s mother, Joyce, said the oldest of her two sons died from complications of COVID-19. Brian spent the Thanksgiving holiday in the Lower 48. Upon his arrival back to the island on Dec. 1, he got tested for COVID. The positive result returned on Dec. 4, and he started displaying symptoms that night. Brian’s wife of 30 years, Sandra, and his son also tested positive. His son had no symptoms, while Sandra reported a loss of smell and taste.
This wasn’t Brian’s first dance with a virus. Back in 2012, he caught swine flu and was in a coma for nearly three weeks. He survived, but at a cost. “That did a number on his respiratory system,” Joyce said.
With a weakened respiratory system, Brian could not fight off this deadly attack, becoming the second of four Kodiak residents to die from complications with COVID since the pandemic started.
My interactions with Brian centered around sports. I always enjoyed my conversations with him about fantasy football while waiting for Sandra — Kodiak High’s varsity girls basketball coach — to emerge from the locker room for the post-game interview. Brian was passionate about athletics and was a loyal fan of the Raiders, Dodgers and Lakers. Being born in Orange County, California, could explain his fixation for those three professional teams.
“He was hoping for a trifecta this year,” Joyce said. The Dodgers won the World Series and the Lakers won the NBA Finals. The Raiders, at 7-6, have an outside chance at advancing to the NFL playoffs.
Brian was 9 when his family moved from Florida to Kodiak. His Coast Guard dad was transferred to the Emerald Isle. However, had cell phones been a thing back in 1978, the Gregorys would have never made it to The Rock.
“They (the Coast Guard) tried to find us on our route here and was going to change us to Sacramento, California,” Joyce said.
That’s a good thing they never got in touch with the Gregorys.
Brian immediately became involved in athletics in Kodiak and played baseball, basketball and track throughout his prep career. In 1985 — a year before graduating — he was a member of the Kodiak Post 17 junior varsity American Legion state championship team. He went 2 for 4 in the 13-8 title-clinching victory over East Anchorage at Mulcahy Stadium.
In one game that season, Brian was playing centerfield and Jonathan Goodwin was playing left.
“A ball was hit between the two of us, and Brian got under it first,” Goodwin posted on Facebook. “He had a huge old leather glove. From the side, it looked like he missed catching it by inches. I was like, ‘What the heck, Brian?’ After picking up the ball and throwing it to second, he showed me his glove, and the ball broke right through the webbing. We just laughed and went on to win state. He was a great friend and teammate.”
John Cannon had another baseball story. Again, this memory had Brian playing left field and Cannon playing center.
“There was a hit to Brian, and I pumped him up hard from center, yelling, ‘Gun it, BRIAN, gun it.’ He threw it so hard that it went over the backstop and effectively out of the park,” Cannon wrote on Facebook. “He turns and looks at me and says, “Gee, thanks, John.’ We always laughed about that moment. We always laughed about many moments. I’ll miss him.”
A year later, Brian was the sixth man on the Kodiak High boys basketball team that won the 1986 Region III Championship (9-0 in regional play) and finished fifth in the state with a 19-7 record.
“Never the star but always there to make the team better. Pushed our big men in practice because he wanted that starting spot,” teammate and lifelong friend Patrick Floyd wrote in a text message. “Great teammate who came to compete every day. And an even better person. Humble but always with a smile on his face.”
Brian might hold the high school record for most broken basketball backboards — he shattered one at Palmer High during the 1986 Region III track meet and another at the Coast Guard base gym around the same time.
“Legendary to this day,” Floyd wrote. “Joyce had to probably deal with the paperwork.”
After high school, Brian spent a year at the community college in Kodiak. He did another year of college in Enid, Oklahoma, before finishing at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. Coach Joe Floyd got him a scholarship there. Brian thought the world of Coach and, up until his death, still used the digital alarm clock that Floyd gave to his players as high school graduation presents.
Brian met Sandra at Missouri Valley College. Even though Sandra grew up on the island and graduated from Kodiak High, the two never associated with each other until college. They both played hoops.
Basketball remained in both their lives as their kids, Julienne and Andrew, both played for Kodiak. Brian coached both of his kids through Little Dribblers.
“When Julienne was playing (in high school), she would always look up at her dad (in the stands), and she would give her a motion,” Joyce said.
When Sandra was named head varsity coach for the Kodiak girls in 2016, Brian became even more of a fixture in the gym, rooting the team on during games and the past two years helping at practice when carpal tunnel surgery kept him away from his job at Matson.
“He would make the girls push him around because he was a big guy to try to push around,” Joyce said.
When not working, watching, or coaching sports, Brian was on the water fishing. Joyce said she has a photo of Brian at the age of 4, holding a fishing pole in both hands.
“That was his relaxation was to go out and fish,” Joyce said.
Patrick Floyd always looked forward to casting with Brian.
“Every time that I traveled to Kodiak during the summer, Brian would lead my boys and me on a new adventure. Either on the ocean fishing for halibut, muddy trail rides, or remote river fishing. Brian always made time to lead the way. He was so selfless with such a genuine and caring heart,” Floyd wrote on his Facebook page.
Joyce said her son always had a smile for his friends and would drop what he was doing to help them out.
Before Brian met Sandra, Joyce figured her son would graduate college and never come back home. How wrong she was. He worked for Matson for 30 years, first as a driver, then as a dispatcher.
On Saturday, the family will be spreading Brian’s ashes in the water near Matson’s office. He will always be part of Kodiak.
“He thought it would be cool to be buried at sea,” Joyce said. “He would work all day and then get in his boat and go out and fish.”
This week’s NFL picks are an honor of Brian.
BUFFALO (10-3) at DENVER (5-8)
This is the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. We love Saturday football. Drew Lock played one of his best games as a pro last week, throwing for 280 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in a 32-27 win at Carolina. Lock will need another big performance for the Broncos to pull the upset over the 10-3 Bills. I was hoping this would be a snow game, but it doesn’t appear that it will … Bills 28, Broncos 21.
NEW ENGLAND (6-7) at MIAMI (8-5)
Remember back in Week 1 when Cam Newton rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns to beat the Dolphins 21-11 in his debut for the Patriots? Probably not. Newton’s hot start didn’t last long and was benched in last week’s loss to the Rams. The Dolphins are the better team, but Bill Belichick is great at defending rookie quarterbacks (see Justin Herbert in 13) … Patriots 22, Dolphins 12.
SEATTLE (9-4) at WASHINGTON (6-7)
Facing the Jets fixes everything. Seattle got back on track last week and was able to play second and third stringers for all of the fourth quarter in a comfortable win over New York. This week, the Hawks jump back into the NFC East, which has improved as a division throughout the season. The Football Team has a tough defense and, with this game being an early East Coast kickoff for Seattle, anything could happen … Seahawks 24, FOOTBALL TEAM 10.
PHILADELPHIA (4-8-1) at ARIZONA (7-6)
Jalen Hurts looked good in his first start for the Eagles. The rookie dual-threat quarterback rushed for 106 yards and passed for another 167 yards and a score in an upset victory over the Saints. Switching from Carson Wentz to Hurts could catapult the Eagles back into the NFC East race … Eagles 23, Cardinals 21
KANSAS CITY (12-1) at NEW ORLEANS (10-3)
This is by far the best game of the week. It would be better if Drew Brees returns, but it will most likely be Taysom Hill back under center. Hill has performed well in his three games filling in for Brees, but does he have enough in his arm to keep pace with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs … Chiefs 42, Saints 21.
Packers 36, Panthers 21
Buccaneers 45, Falcons 17
Vikings 21, Bears 14
49ers 28, Cowboys 16
Titans 38, Lions 34
Colts 35, Texans 24
Ravens 45, Jaguars 7
Rams 38, Jets 10
Browns 32, Giants 18
Steelers 37, Bengals 12