Philadelphia Eagles Linebacker
While an outstanding career at a major college is the ticket to the National Football League for hundreds of players, some take a less-traveled road from more humble surroundings. Bill Bergey’s path to the NFL led from tiny Pine Valley Central in the Cattaraugus County town of South Dayton, through unheralded Arkansas State (where he achieved All-America status, and had his jersey retired as the greatest player in that school’s history) to the expansion Cincinnati Bengals as a second-round pick in 1969. Once he arrived, however, Bergey rendered the point of origin irrelevant, as he made the most of his opportunities in a stellar professional career.
Though small by today’s standards, the 243-pound linebacker used a tireless work ethic to make the difficult transition from the level of competition at a small college program to the NFL. Bergey started at linebacker for the Bengals his rookie season (benefiting from the coaching of the legendary Paul Brown), and was named to the AFL Pro Bowl roster. Bill played five seasons with the Bengals, and was a key component in the rapid rise of that team to playoff contender in the American Football Conference. By that time, Bergey had achieved recognition as one of the top linebackers in the game; the extent of that recognition was the extremely high price (two first-round draft picks, and a second-rounder) paid by the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire his services in a trade prior to the 1974 season.
Bergey flourished as an Eagle, and inspired a defense that guided their rise from doormat to contender. He was named to the All-NFL team every year from 1974 to 1978, led the Eagles in tackles each year, and picked off 16 passes. Bergey was also a participant in the Pro Bowl in 1974, and 1976 through 1978. The serious knee injury he suffered in 1979 might have spelled the end for many players, but Bill battled through the setback with a grim determination, and returned to the Eagles for the 1980 season. His perseverance was rewarded with a First-Team All-NFC selection by the Sporting News, and by a trip to the Super Bowl in January 1981.
Few defensive players have ever dominated their positions as Bergey did at linebacker in his prime. He helped redefine the position, and his team, and it is for those contributions as much as the individual accolades, that Bergey is honored by induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.