Up Close and Personal: Dynamic Duo
By George Edmonston Jr.
Corvallis and Oregon State University have an interesting connection to the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.
Since 1929, numerous Beaver alumni have played for the Bears and the list includes, in descending order, Brian Taylor (1989); Ken Taylor (1985); Bob Grim (1975); Harry Gunner (1970); Herman Clark (1952-56); Frank Ramsey (1945); and the two players who are the subject of this feature, Charles Gilbert "Gil" Bergerson (1932-33) and Jules "Zuck" Carlson (1929-36).
Bergerson and Carlson have it about as good as it gets.
OSU's dynamic duo served as teammates for what is arguably one of the greatest three-year periods in the history of the Bears franchise, 1932-34. They were also the only West Coast players on the team's roster.
Led at first by Head Coach Ralph Jones, then a year later by the legendary George Halas, the Bears won back-to-back titles in 1932-33 and strung together an NFL record 18-straight victories from 1933-34. They went undefeated during the '34 regular season, as rookie running back Beattie Feathers became the first player in professional football history to rush for over a 1,000 yards in a single season.
With a crushing defense that allowed opponents but 16 regular-season points in 13 games, the Bears lost the '34 championship to the New York Giants, 30-13, in a stunning upset that still reverberates in the Windy City.
In addition to Halas, this three-year period also produced nine players who represent the Bears in the NFL Hall of Fame, including Harold "Red" Grange, known forever as college football's "Galloping Ghost"; George Trafton, a center who once knocked four opposing linemen out of commission in the first 12 plays of a game; and fullback Bronco Nagurski, an International Falls, Minn., product who became the most feared power runner of that era.
About Grange, Lamar University history professor John M. Carroll said in his book Red Grange and the Rise of Modern Football: "He ranked with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey in the 1920s as (among) the most heralded figures in America's 'golden age of sport.' When Sports Illustrated did a special issue in 1991 on the greatest moments in sports, Grange was selected for the cover. He became one of the (country's) first athlete-heroes and the first major sports figure to serve as a play-by-play broadcast commentator."
Standing six-two and weighing 225 pounds, Nagurski was strong enough to carry opponents into the end zone on his back. He once put a crack in the brick wall that surrounds Wrigley Field (shared with the Cubs until the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971) and in the same game stomped on two defenders on his way for a touchdown, leaving one with a broken shoulder and the other knocked cold.
Both Grange and Nagurski were inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1963.
Teaming up with Trafton on the offensive line, Bergerson, who hailed from Vernonia, Ore., and Carlson, raised as a youth in The Dalles, helped clear the way for Beattie Feathers, Nagurski and the rest of Halas' offense by playing at either the guard or tackle positions, with Carlson also putting in time at linebacker when the Bears were on defense.
In 1930, Carlson helped the Bears win a 9-7 decision over the Chicago Cardinals in the first-ever indoor game played in football history. The venue was old Chicago Stadium, equipped for the contest with an 80-yard field. Both men participated in the Bears' No. 1 finish in1932, and Carlson played the next year in the first-ever game sanctioned by the NFL as its official "championship game," won by Chicago 23-21 over its arch-rival, the New York Giants. Today, we know this contest of titans as the Super Bowl.
In 1934, Carlson helped give birth to a classic and mainstay in the sport of football, in which 79,432 fans watched a group of college all-stars play the Bears to a scoreless tie. The resultant "College All-Star Game" was played every year thereafter until disbanded in 1976 following a 24-0 Pittsburg Steeler pasting of the college boys.
While at Oregon Agricultural College, both Carlson and Bergerson had learned their craft under the guidance of some of the best teachers in the business. Their head coach, Paul Schissler, had compiled an impressive 48-30-2 record during his nine seasons in Corvallis and was known nationally for his ability to turn out tough players with outstanding football skills. Former OAC linemen "Big" Jim Dixon and "Hippo" Dickerson assisted Schissler, after enjoying stellar careers in which each was named to various All-Coast and All-America squads. In addition, Bergerson also played basketball for the Beavers and was one of the college's best all-around athletes.
Carlson's 95 games as a Chicago Bear regular are unsurpassed for longevity among his generation of OAC football players who competed in the pros. After the 1936 season, in which he saw action in nine games, some of which may have been as a running back, he left football for good, moving to a nice home at 3723 North Greenview Street in Chicago.
Unlike his teammate, Carlson would never return to Oregon to live, retiring in 1972 after serving many years with the Chicago Steamfitters Union as an instructor. In 1980, he was inducted into the Oregon Empire Athletic Foundation's Hall of Fame and died on Feb. 11, 1986, at age 81.
Between the years 1932-36, Bergerson played for three different teams during a pro career that totaled 40 games. He saw action in 13 games for Chicago in 1932 but was traded to the Chicago Cardinals two games into the '33 season. On that team was Oregon Stater Hal Moe, who would later return to Corvallis and his alma mater and enjoy a long and distinguished coaching career. The road to the Cardinals had been paved for both men three years earlier by Oregon State superstar and All-American Howard Maple, a running back who saw limited action in eight games.
Sitting out the 1934 season, Bergerson was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers (football team) in 1935, where he saw action in 12 games and was a teammate of Beaver alumnus "Red" Franklin.
In 1938, his playing days behind him, Bergerson moved to Seattle. He found employment with the Guiana American Co. with assignments in British Guiana.
In 1949, he moved to Walla Walla, Wash., and by 1954 was back in Corvallis as a representative for the Equitable Savings and Loan Association for Linn and Benton Counties. He eventually settled at 460 A Ave. in Corvallis, an address within walking distance of his alma mater. He passed away on Oct. 18, 1987, at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 77.