BY JEFF FALK
Genuine. Intelligent. Hard-working. Caring. Humble.
The traits that allow locals the ability to relate to Bill Bergey, also afford Bergey the opportunity to relate to Lebanon Countians.
And it is those same qualities that made Bergey an outstanding professional football player.
Bergey, an NFL linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals for 12 seasons, has been the spokesperson for the Lebanon Federal Credit Union for the past three years. In the mid 1980s, Bergey held a similar position with Frederick Chevrolet for 12 years.
Over that time, Bergey has come to know and understand the people of Lebanon County.
“I do the commercials and make appearances,” said Bergey of his current responsiblities with LFCU. “There’s always a couple of real big events and they’ll have me there signing autographs and footballs. My job is to promote harmony and good will. I’ll talk football with anyone who’ll listen.
“I love the people of the Lebanon Valley area,” Bergey added. “My grandpop was an old Pennsylvania dutchman.”
Bergey doesn’t spend all that much time in the Lebanon area. But when he’s here it takes him back to his humble roots growing up in the South Dayton, N.Y.-area and his college days at Arkansas State, where he was an all-American.
“When I see the people in Lebanon, I can relate to them,” said Bergey. “In my business, I see so many phoney-balonies. But with the people from Lebanon, what you see is what you get. And that’s plenty good enough for Bill Bergey.”
‘Mr. Eagle’ of the late 1970s, Bergey currently does pre- and post-game analysis on the radio and television for the club. Recently bestowed upon him by the Philadelphia Sportswriters’ Association was the honor of the ‘Living Legend Award’, an acknowledgement given to such Philly sports personalities as Bobby Clark, Richie Asburn, Wilt Chamberlain and Harry Kalas, just to name a few.
“My nature is to be that humble guy,” said Bergey. “I just enjoy people. I try to greet each person like he was the only person I was going to talk to all day long.
“When I left that stadium after a game, I never denied an autograph request,” Bergey continued. “I might have signed a hundred autographs after a game.”
After four seasons with the Bengals, Bergey came to the Eagles in 1974 for two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder. Before retiring in 1981, Bergey was the driving force behing Philadelphia’s ‘Gang Green’ defense which helped the Eagles to playoff appearances in 1978 and 1979 and Super Bowl XV.
“Everybody loves a champion,” said Bergey. “In the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins, the New York Giants all have multiple Super Bowl winners. The Eagle have diddly squat. The bottom line is people want to root for a champion.
“My take on the Super Bowl was Green Bay beat us, but I wanted Pittsburgh to win because they were the in-state team,” continued Bergey. “After while it’s kind of like, ‘My gosh, it’s our turn.’ Green Bay was from the NFC and I see them sort of like an enemy thing. But I can see how pople would step on the band wagon.”
During his 12-year career, the 6-4, 243-pound Bergey was an all-pro four times and set the record for the most interceptions – 27 – by a linebacker in NFL history. At one time, Bergey was the highest paid defensive player in the NFL and he was the Eagles’ Most Valuable Player on three separate ocassions.
“I’ve always said football is 25 percent physical and 75 percent between the ears,” said Bergey. “You’ve got to get your mind right. I started to get ready for a game on Thursday and come Sunday about one o’clock, I’d be a ticking time bomb that was going to explode.
“I gave it everything I had on every single play,” Bergey added. “Sometimes it was good enough, sometimes it wasn’t. But I wanted to leave everything on the field.”
Today at age 68, Bergey is none the worse for football wear, except for three concussions – ‘The ones I jokingly say I remember,’ he said – and a repalced knee.
“I believe you reap the rewards proportionate to the hard work you put into it,” said Bergey. “In 1976, I became the highest paid defensive player, but we’re not going to talk about the money. It started with us, when Dick Vermiel came in the middle (19)70s. It (professional football) became a year-round thing.
“These guys today are year-round guys,” Bergey concluded. “I say the players today are bigger, faster, stronger, quicker. They are like thoroughbred race horses. It’s absolutely incredible. I wonder what it’s going to be like 30 years from now.”
(Editor’s note: This piece on former Philadelphia Eagle Bill Bergey originally appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in June of 2011.)