The Clinton County humidity in August was immediately felt. It was felt by the Cincinnati Bengals at the training camp on one side of town, and the “carnies” at the Clinton County Fair on the other.
In the early 1970s the windows dripped with humidity, both east and west. The football players and carnies were no different than the rest of us.
The Bengal players were spared sleeping underneath a trailer in the mud, and showering under a cold-water hose as the carnies did, but the nights in the Wilmington College training camp dorms could be just as unpleasant in the days before the Bengals purchased air conditioners.
“The Bengals are tough. We don’t care about air conditioning,” owner and coach Paul Brown would say. Some of the players did care.
A week ago, I received the nicest email from an old friend of mine, Steve Blackledge. Steve covered the Bengals for the Wilmington News Journal for several years, along with Editor Clarence Graham, who seldom missed a practice, morning or afternoon.
Steve told me how he and Clarence used to meet Paul Brown at the old P & G Restaurant on South Street, across from the courthouse where Austin’s used to be. Steve said he was privileged to talk football with the Hall of Fame coach who became his friend.
Steve moved to the Columbus Dispatch, where he has been the chief high school sports reporter for 30 years, and said he plans to write a book about his adventures. No doubt his many fans, me included, look forward to reading it.
Paul Brown was a man who believed in enforcing strict curfews — even the largest players on the team feared him.
He would trade a player at the drop of a hat, and sometimes he dropped the hat.
My brother, Jack, was a police officer on the Wilmington Police Department in the early 1970s. Dave Lieurance, a friend for 50 years, was the department’s radio dispatcher at the time. Jack and Dave often worked the midnight shift together.
On the morning of Sept. 2, 1971 at 3 a.m., Jack was on patrol when Dispatcher Lieurance called for him to return to headquarters. Jack first thought Dave may have wanted a break to go to Fizer’s Bakery for some pecan rolls. Instead, Dave handed Jack an urgent message that needed delivery to one of the Bengals at the college dorm.
Dave had received a message that Bill Bergey, the All-Pro for the Bengals, needed to get to a hospital in Cincinnati immediately to join his wife, Micky, who was in labor. “She is about to deliver a little Bengal,” Dave told Jack with a smile.
Jack rushed to the Bengal’s college dorm and knocked on one of the metal doors. Fullback Jess Phillips answered, wiping sleep from his eyes. “Your wife is in labor. She needs you to meet her at a hospital in Cincinnati,” Jack said.
“That’s strange. She wasn’t pregnant when I left home last week,” Jess said without a trace of a smile. “You’re looking for Bill Bergey. He’s in the room next door.”
Jack found Bergey and delivered the message.
A week ago, my cell phone rang. It was Dave Lieurance. “I’m at a sports card show in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I just had an amazing experience,” my friend said.
Dave went on to say he was standing in line to obtain an autograph from Bill Bergey, now 72 years old. Bergey was an All-Pro with the Bengals, and later the Philadelphia Eagles, and was a premier linebacker in the NFL for many years.
When Dave reached Bergey he introduced himself and said he was from Wilmington, Ohio. Dave said Bergey’s eyes lit up.
“Mr. Bergey, do you remember when a policeman came to your dorm at Wilmington College and delivered a message regarding the pending birth of your son, Jason?” Dave asked.
Bill Bergey came to a complete stop. “I sure do,” he said excitedly. “The big police officer came to the door, delivered the message, and I took off for Cincinnati.”
“I hit one of the hardest rainstorms of my life on Interstate 71 that morning,” he continued.
Dave said Bergey turned his full attention toward him. He stopped signing autographs and started reminiscing. Dave presented him with the News Journal article about his departure to witness the birth of his son, which Mr. Bergey signed.
“I’m going to call Micky!” Bergey explained emotionally, as he picked up his cell phone to call his wife to tell her what had just transpired. Bergey told Dave he vividly remembered all of the details of that early morning.
Upon his return home, Dave was kind enough to present me with a Bergey signed copy of the original article, along with a picture of him and the linebacker.
It now sits on our mantle in the living room.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “A gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.”
Mr. Bergey is living proof.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.