by Chuck Korbar
April 22, 1982
Bill Bergey’s Last Hurrah Came In 1980
Because Bergey did summon the strength for one last hurrah - an inner strength not known to all athletes - one more page was written to 100 years of EVENING OBSERVER sports history.
“My knee was completely torn out,” he recalls, after the 1979 season that saw the Eagles reach the playoffs. “The doctor reconstructed it. I dedicated the entire off-season to the rebuilding of the leg.”
“Maybe I started playing too quick,” he says in retrospect. “Everybody wants to get back. I insisted on playing in the opener. The coaches were reluctant to start me. But it’s the nature of an athlete.”
Bill Bergey did start all 16 games of the 1980 Philadelphia Eagles’ National Football League season. A three time selection as team Most Valuable Player, he led in total tackles (119) and tied in initial tackles (81).
He ran his career interception total to 27, the best among active National Football League linebackers. And he led the Eagles into their first Super Bowl ever.
All this in a season that shouldn’t have been for the 35 year- old 11- year NFL veteran who played in four Pro Bowl games.
“That’s just the way Bill was,” says Gale Ingersoll, a three-year high school teammate of Bill Bergey at Pine Valley. “That’s the reason he made it and his brother (Bruce) didn’t.”
Bruce Bergey had even better physical dimensions than the 6-3, 245 Bill. He was with Kansas City and Houston in the National Football League, Toronto in the Canadian Football League and ended an up-and-down career with Portland of the old World Football League.
The key is what’s inside.
“He’s gone through a lot to prove himself,” says his sister, Virginia Bergey of Jamestown. “He has what they call true grit.”
It was always that way. Adversity stepped in early in Bill’s high school career, Ingersoll recalls once again. He was out for football for a week as a freshman and quit, and it cost him a full year of eligibility.
In his junior year, two weeks before a long-awaited confrontation against Randolph and running back Marv Hubbard (who went on to an NFL career with the Oakland Raiders) Bergey came down with hepatitis.
It cut his final scholastic season in half and when Bill was a senior he spent the year with the semi-pro Fredonia Oilers. “He was their most outstanding back,” recalls Ingersoll.
He was a walk-on at Arkansas State, but quickly earned his scholarship. By his senior year Bill was All-America, and after three post-season bowl games, the No. 1 draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he played for five seasons before coming to the Eagles in 1974.
After three losing seasons in his first four campaigns, Bergey led the Eagles to years of 9-7 in 1978, 11-6 in 1979 and 14-6 in 1980, the Super Bowl season.
“As a middle linebacker he was one of the best ones to ever play the game,” said Eagles” public relations director Jim Gallagher, before Bill’s retirement was announced last month.
One more reason why Bill Bergey’s finest hour came in the season that shouldn’t have been.