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April 23, 2015

Is Bill Bergey the greatest living Eagle?

For years, many considered Concrete Charlie -- former Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik -- the greatest living Eagles player. But that all changed last month when the hall-of-famer passed away at the age of 89, leaving a void in the hearts of those lucky enough to have watched him play.

In addition to Bednarik, the debate for the franchise's all-time greatest player would undoubtedly include names like Brookshire, Brown, Van Buren, and White. Unfortunately, some of the greatest Eagles players are no longer with us, and in the wake of Bednarik's passing, there is no consensus as to whom should replace him as the franchise top player.

With that in mind, we've decided to take a look at some of the greatest living Eagles, the kind of guys Jeff Lurie would want to trot out before a big playoff game -- if/when that time comes -- to help get the fans fired up.

Here's a closer look at linebacker Bill Bergey, a stalwart in the middle of the Eagles defense for seven of 12 NFL seasons:

BY THE NUMBERS: 91 G (1974-1980); 4x Pro-Bowler; 2x All-Pro; 3x Eagles team MVP; 18 INT; 15 FR; started every game in six of his seven years in Philly, including 1979-80 NFC Championship season; member of Eagles Hall of Fame.

HOW HE GOT HERE: Bergey spent five seasons in Cincinnati before being traded to the Eagles for three draft picks (two first-rounders and a second) in 1974 after a disagreement with Bengals owner Paul Brown. More from SBNation's Bengals site, Cincy Jungle, which ranked the trade the third-best in the history of their franchise, although it seemed to work out just as well for the Eagles:

Bergey was drafted by the Bengals in 1969 and played five seasons for the squad. Things got ugly in 1974 between Bergey and the club after he signed a contract to play in the World Football League sometime in the future after the 1976 season--which is when his Bengals contract was set to expire. Owner Paul Brown didn't like that one bit and put Bergey on the trading block while also filing a lawsuit against the linebacker after the events played out. Like I said--ugly.

The Eagles came calling and offered three picks for the linebacker--a first round pick in 1976 and 1977, along with their 1977 second round pick. Bergey went on to become a four-time All-Pro with the Eagles and was a key contributor to their renaissance through the 1970s.

Don't worry -- the Bengals did alright for themselves in the deal too.

The picks turned into three defensive players--one of which became one of the better players in the team's history.


Those three players turned out to be Ross Browner, Wilson Whitley and Ray Griffin, who started a combined 223 games in Cincy.

After the trade, Bergey even told the Associated press in 1978 that he thought his new team overspent on him. 

"There's no way that I would have grabbed a Bill Bergey for two number ones and a number two draft choice--I think that's absurd," Bergey said at the time. "I don't think that there is anybody who is worth that much. I really think that that is mortgaging your future. This isn't an individual sport--it's a team sport."

The fact that he's not placed next to guys like Von Hayes in the annals of Philly sports lore only further demonstrates how good of a player he was. To come in with those kind of expectations -- I mean, two firsts and second is what you trade for a franchise QB -- and more than live up to them is impressive to say the least.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: After missing most of the 1979 season with a knee injury, Bergey returned to action in 1980, but would never be the same again. Despite the Eagles making it to the Super Bowl in 1981, the once All-Pro linebacker was a shell of his former self. 

"If I was at one time a 100 percent football player, after my knee injury, I don’t think I got past 65 percent," Bergey told in 2013. "When I was on top of my game, I could diagnose a play and get to a spot to almost wait for a ball carrier. After the knee injury, I could still diagnose a play, but by the time I could get to that spot, the ball carrier was gone. 

"Nobody had to tell me that it was my time. I would always be up in the two hundreds, as far as tackles goes. I think that the year we went to the Super Bowl, I played in every game and played on every play. I think that I was around 135 tackles. It was just absolutely dreadful. I used to watch film, and I would remember, ‘Gosh, I used to be able to make that play and it was so easy to make that play.’ I just couldn’t make it anymore. That’s when it was time for me to hang up the old strap." []

Bergey retired following the 1980-81 season, making Super Bowl XV his final game.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Bergey was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1988. He is one of 30 players (not counting coaches, executives, etc.) to earn that honor. However, his impact in the Philadelphia region extends beyond the football field. His son, Jake, spent 10 seasons playing lacrosse for the Philadelphia Wings. Bergey has also spent over 20 years working in radio, including Eagles pre- and postgame shows. 

SIGNATURE MOMENT: Beating the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game.


  •  •  THE OTHER CANDIDATES    •  •

• Eric Allen, CB

• Harold Carmichael, WR

• Brian Dawkins, S

• LeSean McCoy, RB

• Tommy McDonald, WR

• Donovan McNabb, QB

• Wilbert Montgomery, RB

• Brian Westbrook, RB

• Al Wistert, OL

  •  •  HONORABLE MENTIONS  •  •  •

• Randall Cunningham, QB
• Ron Jaworski, QB
• Seth Joyner, LB
• Pete Retzlaff, WR
• Clyde Simmons, DE
• Troy Vincent, CB