North Aurora Mayor Dale Berman looks through photos and memorabilia while reminiscing about his football playing days at his office on Tuesday. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 4, 2011 12:37AM
At age 77, the memory isn’t always razor sharp. Which is why Dale Berman checks his Blackberry to make sure of the dates.
Let’s see, Back surgery, 2002. Hip replaced, 2005. Stents after the 2006 heart attack. New knees soon after. Fused ankle in 2010. And just this January, shoulder replacement.
“Really,” he jokes, “there’s not a whole lot left.”
Such is the life of an ex-football player. But Berman, whom most people know as a long-time community leader and mayor of North Aurora, is not just any old jock. He’s a Hall of Famer. At least he will be on Friday when he is officially inducted into the Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Problem is, everything he’s got to show for it is pretty well hidden.
So, I ask politely, where’s all the yellowed newspaper clippings? The black-and-white, age-curled photos? Surely there’s a tarnished trophy; maybe a plaque or two attesting to those many years of gridiron prowess?
Berman shakes his head.
“I go into some of my friends’ houses. They have a whole wall full of that stuff in their basements. I’d have to look really hard to find even one article or picture. And the trophies ... they’re all broken.”
At my insistence, Berman eventually goes home and digs out a few items for The Beacon-News photographer. But all I could get my hands on was a book published in 1999 by Northern Illinois University that named him as part of the university’s “All Century Team.”
Berman made All Conference the two years he played under Coach Howard Fletcher; his senior year he was named MVP, as well as captain of the All Conference Team.
Quite an accomplishment for someone who never once carried the ball, much less scored a touchdown.
“You need a lot of commitment when you play the line,” he says. “A lot of passion, too.”
At Ottawa High School, Dale Berman was 6 feet tall, weighed 235 pounds, and played tackle on both sides of the ball. He was named All Conference and All American. And after playing in the state’s All Star game in Peoria, Berman was offered scholarships to Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan — but chose Northwestern University because his stepmother had graduated from there.
Figuring he’d get drafted, Berman quit Northwestern after his sophomore year to work in an Ottawa glass factory. It was then he began playing for the Aurora Clippers, a semi-pro football team that dominated the Tri-State Professional League from 1939 to 1959.
In fact, in those 20 years, the Clippers — made up mostly of players from the outstanding teams of Mooseheart and East and West Aurora high schools — played 162 games, amassing 110 victories, 42 defeats and 10 ties.
Berman was on the Clippers for two years, until 1954 when he was drafted into the Army. Two years later, he used his GI Bill to go to school at Northern Illinois University — and play football, of course.
After graduating from NIU in 1960 with a degree in business and accounting, Berman says he turned down an offer from George Halas to try out for the Chicago Bears. By this time, he had a wife (Mary) and two young daughters, as well as a nice job offer from IBM.
Still, Berman wasn’t finished with the game. Because the Clippers had just disbanded, he joined the Elmhurst Travelers for the next two years and made the semi-pro league’s All Star roster.
When you get football in your blood like that, says the mayor — still a strong supporter of NIU football — it’s hard to get it out.
That passion is the main reason Berman’s looking forward to the trip to Canton, Ohio. Making the Hall of Fame is a great honor, he says, (NFL Pro Bowler Michael Lewis will also be inducted, along with Auroran Robert Harrison.) But it’s more about the camaraderie shared by those whose love for the game has not been diminished by time.
Yes, Berman gladly admits, he still dreams of being on the field again. Muscles tense. Listening for the snap. Exploding off the ball. Making the hit. Hearing the crunch.
Sometimes he’ll even fall out of bed. It’s that real.
Which is probably why those old photos and newspaper clippings have remained buried all these years. Sometimes dates may get a little fuzzy. But the memories — well, they’re crystal clear.
“It’s all up here,” Berman says, pointing to his gray head. “That’s where it counts.”