Was: Mt. Vernon, Depauw and NFL tight end
Now: Orthodontist, father of four in the Greenfield area
During the summer of 1990, Greg Werner was on his way. A tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles after spending his rookie season with the New York Jets, Werner caught a touchdown pass from Jim McMahon in a preseason game.
Werner played in 10 games in 1989 with the Jets, starting four, and the 24-year-old was confident he had earned a spot on the regular season roster for the Eagles.
It wasn’t to be, however.
“That touchdown was actually the very last play of my NFL career,” Werner explained Thursday. “I was woken up the next morning with a phone call and they told me I was released.
“I was the No. 2 tight end on the roster, but the No. 3 tight end was also a long snapper, so he got the spot. And they had Keith Byars, a fullback who could also play a little tight end. It was a kind of a bad deal, but that’s the way it goes.”
Today, Werner lives in McCordsville with his wife, Nancy (a former New Palestine High School teacher), and their four children, Ellen, Dan, Pete and Tom.
Ellen is a senior golfer at Mt. Vernon, where her dad graduated in 1985. Dan is a freshman on the Marauders’ football and basketball teams. And Pete and Tom are in seventh grade and sixth grade, respectively.
Werner, who was undrafted after an All-American career at DePauw, knew that he wanted get back to his Hoosier roots when his NFL career ended.
“I always felt comfortable in Indiana,” Werner said. “Right after I left the NFL, I was selling pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers Squibb and doing quite well. In fact, I was up for a promotion, but what I didn’t like was that it would have taken me back to New Jersey (home of the Jets).
“So, that made me think perhaps I should go back to school.”
Werner went on to get his Master’s degree and certificate of orthodontics at the Indiana University School of Dentistry in 2000. Since leaving IU, Werner had built his own successful practice, Werner Orthodontics, which currently has offices in Greenfield, McCordsville and Indianapolis.
Looking back, 20-plus years after his NFL career ended, Werner can vividly recall arriving for his first training camp with the Jets.
“I’d say I was in awe,” Werner commented. “I was in awe of the city of New York, in awe of the talented players and names I was familiar with growing up.
“I was coming from a small town, from a small Midwestern college and here I am going to the city of New York playing against all these talented guys. It took me a while to feel comfortable.”
Ken O’Brien was the Jets’ quarterback during Werner’s rookie season, and their teammates included Al Toon and Freeman McNiel.
Werner caught eight passes in 1989 for 115 yards, but didn’t score. The 1990 preseason touchdown pass from McMahon was Werner’s final flicker of NFL glory.
“I didn’t have a wonderful training camp (in 1990),” Werner said. “I was having pretty significant neck problems. I would get stingers … my left arm would go numb, and it was happening every play. It got to the point I couldn’t raise my left arm without it hurting.
“So, knowing what we know now (about the long-term effects of playing football), it was probably a blessing in disguise that I got released.”
In the end, Werner is thankful that he at least got an opportunity to play at a level that most can only dream of. The lessons he learned during the process were invaluable.
“Football teaches you how to work hard and how to be resilient,” he said. “And those are two key characteristics that helped me get through school with the success that I did and, ultimately, led me to become an orthodontist, where I’m very happy.”